One morning when I was 16, I discovered a fine line under my right eye. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all morning. I was SIXTEEN!!! How could I be developing a WRINKLE already?!
In a fit of blind panic, I used my midmorning free period to … go to the nurse’s office. While there, I presumably gave the nurse a funny story to tell family and friends later, but she managed to keep a straight face as she informed me kindly that the one little line I’d come in about was probably caused by dehydration or allergies and advised me to go see the school counselor about my anxiety.
The point of this highly embarrassing story is that one’s first fine lines and wrinkles can be utterly panic-inducing. Discovering them can feel like crossing the Rubicon, an irrevocable step forward into the next and less plump and youthful stage of your life, and hardly anyone ever feels ready for that.
I have some good news for you. First of all, aging is neither the end of the world nor the end of your beauty. But second of all, if you just aren’t ready yet to start aging gracefully, fine lines and wrinkles are often a relatively simple thing to minimize or reverse. It just takes some time, patience, and a few gallons of sunscreen!
If you just aren’t ready yet to start aging gracefully, fine lines and wrinkles are often a relatively simple thing to minimize or reverse.
Step 1: Take a Deep Breath and Evaluate
So you’ve noticed your first fine lines and wrinkles. Yes, they might be the first visible signs of skin aging—it happens to all of us. But they might also be something much more transient, and something that can be addressed with lifestyle adjustments.
Fine lines around the eyes, especially when you’re still quite young—under 21, I’d say—often appear due to allergies (particularly pollen, dust, and dander allergies that commonly cause eye irritation), dehydration, or poor sleep habits. Resolving the internal issue makes the external sign go away. So consider these factors first. If you have, or suspect you have, allergies, consult your doctor about the best medications for you. If you don’t drink enough water, drink more water. Carve out some time to get better sleep, and maybe use some bedtime ritual tips to improve your sleep.
Then, if you’re still seeing those fine lines, consider skin care interventions.
Step 2: Max Out the Moisture
Early fine lines and loss of elasticity don’t always arise from the deeper breakdown of skin’s collagen and elastin structures. Instead, they often appear due to simple surface dryness and dehydration, which can cause skin to deflate a bit and become more prone to temporary wrinkling.
A few things can help. To replenish hydration in skin, allowing it to plump back up to its full, bouncy glory, increase the hydration in your skin care routine. Look for hydrating mists and toners with humectant (water-binding) ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and sodium hyaluronate. Apply to skin generously, patting on multiple layers if desired, and seal in with your moisturizer afterwards. Use sheet masks when you have time, too. Sheet masks deliver a high volume of hydrating liquid to skin, and the physical occlusion of the mask material helps ensure as much of that liquid makes its way into your skin as possible.
While you improve the hydrating elements of your routine, also consider whether any parts of your routine are causing the accelerated water loss that’s leading to your early fine lines and wrinkles. Excessive cleansing and cleansing with overly harsh products are common culprits. Your face shouldn’t feel squeaky clean after a wash. That means you’ve stripped away too much of its natural moisture. If your cleanser is too harsh, look for a milder, neutral or low-pH cleanser to replace it with.
Excessive exfoliation is also a very common cause of premature fine lines, due to the way it compromises skin’s ability to hold moisture. If you exfoliate regularly, whether with scrubs or with AHAs and BHAs, and your skin generally feels tight or thin or looks shiny and glassy, cut back on the exfoliation. If you can, discontinue your exfoliating products altogether for a few weeks to allow your barrier to recover. Then reintroduce your exfoliants at a reduced frequency of use.
Step 3: Bring Out the Big Guns
If you’ve come this far without solving the issue, your first fine lines may truly be the first visible signs of skin aging in your face. (Or you just want to know how to delay their appearance on your face for as long as possible.)
Still totally solvable. There are three actives in particular with extensive research demonstrating their ability to increase collagen production over time, leading to firmer skin with fewer lines.
The first is the L-ascorbic acid form of vitamin C (as opposed to other vitamin C derivatives, which have their advantages but much less research). In addition to boosting collagen production, topical L-AA also helps fade dark spots for a more even-toned and glowy look. It’s also a powerful antioxidant, so regular use will help protect skin from free radical damage that accelerates the visible aging process. Look for a vitamin C serum that contains at least 15% L-AA at a pH of around 3.5, in a dark or opaque bottle. Store it in the refrigerator. L-AA oxidizes quickly, so discontinue use and get a fresh bottle when the color of the serum turns a medium to dark yellow.
The second active is tretinoin, the prescription-only retinoid found in Retin-A and other prescription anti-aging treatments. Tretinoin essentially re-teaches skin how to grow properly and more rapidly. Older skin cells shed more rapidly, and fresher, more youthful-looking skin surfaces. Of course, this kind of potency has drawbacks. Tretinoin very commonly causes dryness, irritation, and peeling, especially in the first few months of use, so if you get a prescription, consult with your doctor on the best ways to minimize these side effects. Tretinoin is also highly photosensitizing, so make extra sure you’re using enough sunscreen every day your face sees the sun.
For the same mechanism of action as tretinoin but in a much milder, OTC form, look for retinol, ideally in serums with about 1% of the active ingredient. Retinol converts in the skin into retinoic acid, aka tretinoin, but because so much of it is lost in the conversion process, the end effect is gentler. The results may be less dramatic, but research demonstrates that they are still significant enough to be visible. Like tretinoin, retinol is photosensitizing. Sunscreen. Every day.
Vitamin C, tretinoin, and retinol all take time to produce visible effects. Don’t give up if you’re not seeing a difference after a couple of weeks. Most people need at least a few months of consistent use to perceive significant improvement. But those few months will feel like nothing once you do see changes!
Now, on to the last step in the process: delaying more signs of skin aging!
Step 4: Wear Sunscreen
Sun damage is responsible for the majority of visible skin aging signs. Luckily, sun damage is fairly easily preventable by using a high-protection, broad spectrum sunscreen in generous amounts every day that you plan to go outside, even for a few minutes. Reapply as needed after sweating, swimming, or otherwise wiping it off, and reapply if you’ve been in the sun for longer than two hours.
The great thing about sunscreen is that when you protect your skin from receiving more sun damage, your skin is better able to repair existing sun damage. Even in the absence of other anti-aging actives, proper sun protection over time can result in healthier and more youthful-looking skin.
Don’t let your first fine lines get you down! Although we often preach prevention first in the skin care community, repair plus prevention for the future can work wonders too.
And if you were wondering about the story I told at the beginning of this article? That fine line went away once the pollen cleared and my allergies subsided. It was, in the end, not a big deal at all.