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December 21, 2018

7 Main Causes of Wrinkles


Wrinkles are a natural consequence of ageing. But how much wrinkling is inevitable, and how much can we control? The answers will differ from person to person, but a look at the causes of wrinkled skin can go a long way toward helping reduce its severity.

Genetic factors determine our skin’s propensity to develop wrinkles as we age, but external factors go a long way toward amplifying or minimising our genetic tendencies. Sun exposure is the leading external cause of wrinkles, particularly among fair-skinned people. Smoking, diet, and exposure to pollution can also cause the skin to develop unnaturally deep or numerous wrinkles.

Plenty of options are available to shore up wrinkled skin or reduce the appearance of shallow wrinkles, and preventative measures can greatly diminish wrinkles of all kinds. Before discussing those, let’s look more closely at the causes of wrinkling.

What causes wrinkles?

We can’t control our genetic tendency to develop wrinkles, but identifying other causes can help us mitigate the risk.


woman with wrinkles

Ageing is, of course, the leading non-genetic cause of wrinkles. As we grow older, our skin produces less of the natural oil that keeps its surface firm and supple; drier skin is more susceptible to fine wrinkles. Deeper down, the skin loses collagen, elastin, and fat. These tissues are responsible for the skin’s firmness and ability to retain its shape; when they diminish with age, sagging and deep wrinkling results. [1]

Regardless of a given person’s genetic predisposition to showing the signs of ageing, over time we all use our facial muscles to make a repeated series of similar facial gestures. Each time the skin is pulled into a smile or a frown, for instance, it momentarily loses its original shape. Youthful skin is easily able to reset itself to a neutral expression, but older skin that has lost collagen and elastin develops grooves over time that eventually become permanent folds and creases.

Sun exposure

This is the primary cause of premature wrinkling. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage the skin’s outer layers, leading to complications including wrinkling. More perniciously, it damages the connective tissues beneath the skin’s surface, the very collagen and elastin responsible for the face’s shape.


Smoking reduces the blood supply to critical areas of the body, including the skin. This impairs the skin’s ability to heal from injury, sun exposure, and age, and prevents it from removing dead or damaged cells.

Research finds that smoking will narrow blood vessels and reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your skin. Smoking also increases the production of free radicals and lowers levels of vitamin A in the skin. These play a crucial role in premature skin ageing. [2]

Can they be prevented?

Wrinkles are natural, and cannot be entirely prevented into old age. But several steps can be taken that minimize the effects of wrinkles’ external causes, in addition to the various treatment options for wrinkles which can temporarily reverse existing wrinkles and slow down the formation of new ones.

UV Protection is the single most effective step most people can take to limit their risk of premature wrinkles. [3] This means limiting exposure to the sun, wearing protective clothing and sunglasses, and applying sunscreen even in colder weather.

Experts suggest using a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied every two hours under normal conditions, more frequently if it is exposed to sweat or water.

Many skin-care products include broad-spectrum sunscreen; when all else is equal, choose the product that protects you from UV radiation.

Quit smoking

Your skin’s health is one of the least important benefits you’ll reap, but if that’s what it takes to get you to quit, know that your face will tell the world about your success.

Luckily, Singapore's smoking rate has decreased throughout the years, from 18.3% in 1992 to 10.6% in 2019, through a combination of legislative and public education efforts.


Moisturisers can help offset the skin’s natural tendency to lose hydration over time. They may not reduce the effects of lost collagen and elastin, but moisturizers can greatly mitigate the risk of developing fine lines and wrinkles.

Keep a balanced diet

Eating well, and making sure to get plenty of vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits, can give your skin the support it needs to respond to the effects of ageing. There might not be a load of scientific evidence pointing to the exact relationship between specific vitamins and wrinkle reduction, but like smoking cessation, you’ll benefit in countless other ways by improving your diet.

  1. Russell-Goldman, E., & Murphy, G. F. (2020). The pathobiology of skin aging: new insights into an old dilemma. The American journal of pathology190(7), 1356-1369.
  2. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Smoking and its effects on skin
  3. Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A. I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology4(3), 308–319. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.22804


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