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Ask Curology: Can stress cause wrinkles?

How “worry lines” got their name

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar
by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 4 min read
Woman pointing at skincare cream near her eye
Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar
by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 4 min read
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Welcome to Ask Curology, penned by one of our in-house medical providers in response to your questions about all things skincare. This week, does stress age you? Deep breath: here’s why tension in your day-to-day might play out on your face.

• • •

Dear Curology,

2020 has been one heck of a year, and I’m having the opposite of a glow up. The lines on my forehead are starting to deepen and I’ve noticed the beginnings of wrinkles under my eyes as well. I’m in my early 30s, so I know my skin is still changing. But these changes seem a bit much, especially since I’ve been using anti-aging skincare products since my mid-20s.

Is all the added stress aging me? If so, should I be doing more yoga? Buy a more expensive wrinkle cream? Skip straight to an intense procedure? Help!


Confessing my Stressing

Dear Stressing,

I think many of us can relate to the increased stress you’re feeling. This year has been nuts, but know that you’re not alone! We’re in this together :)

Before we get into stress-related skin changes, I just want to make a quick PSA. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone about it, there are resources. Check out Talkspace Online Counseling, an online service where you can chat with a licensed therapist (no insurance required). There’s also SAMSHA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. It can help you find a mental health service provider in your area.

Ok, with that said, let’s dive into how stress actually affects our skin.

So, does stress cause wrinkles?

The short answer is — yes, stress can be a contributing factor in accelerating wrinkles. Our bodies react to stress by revving up the endocrine system (a system of glands that make hormones) and the immune system. Although the exact way in which stress impacts skin is still being researched, we know that there are negative impacts of chronic stress on skin health. Here’s what we know:

  • Hormones. Certain hormones released during stress (such as cortisol) were found to increase DNA damage and interfere with DNA repair. These changes could speed up the skin aging process.

  • Telomeres. Telomeres are essentially caps at the ends of chromosomes. Shorter telomere lengths have been associated with signs of aging, and they shorten with each cell division. Certain stressful situations have been associated with shorter telomere lengths.

  • Cell damage. Repeated short-term stress can also accelerate aging. Our bodies respond to stress by producing reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage our cells. Our bodies use antioxidants to help minimize the effects of ROS, but over time, our antioxidant levels can be depleted.

  • Coping mechanisms. Environmental stressors like smoking can negatively impact our skin. So can habits like habitually snacking on certain comfort foods.

Worry lines and other dynamic wrinkles

Dynamic wrinkles can appear when we repeatedly make a certain expression. For example, when we’re stressed, many of us unconsciously furrow our brows. But worry lines aren’t strictly limited to worrying! Dynamic wrinkles also happen when we smile or laugh. They happen to most people!

That said, the repeated muscle movement of certain expressions can “iron in” dynamic wrinkles, making them more permanent. Although some topical medications may help to smooth the surface of the skin, other treatment options may be needed if you wish to address these deeper dynamic wrinkles (i.e. Botox, fillers, or lasers). But we’re of the mindset that smile and laugh-lines are evidence of a life fully lived…you don’t need to do anything about them!

Self-care & chill: stress reduction tips

Now that you know how stress can contribute to wrinkles, let’s talk about what you can do to help minimize stress!

  • Talk it out. Talking about your emotions can really help to process them, especially with a licensed therapist. As mentioned earlier, there are resources if you’d like to talk to someone about your stress.

  • Move around. Exercise has continually been shown to help with stress reduction. Do whatever you’d like — walking, yoga, swimming — it’s all good!

  • Slow down. Taking time to meditate (even for just a few minutes!) can do wonders for your stress levels. Stick out the savasana after your yoga workout, or even take a few minutes to practice mindful breathing before bed.

  • Sleep well. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important for stress management and your overall health. Do what you can to get a solid 8 hours each night. Check out my recent post about sleep habits that may help reduce wrinkles.

  • Eat well. Staying healthy is an important part of stress reduction, and a balanced diet loaded with fruits and veggies is a great place to start.

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I hope you find this information helpful! Feel free to sound off in the comments with questions or get in touch with your Curology medical provider. If you’re not a member yet, you can sign up for a free month of Curology (just pay $4.95 + tax to cover shipping and handling). Members get paired with an in-house medical provider (like me!) for a custom skincare experience.

All my best,

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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