Fine lines and wrinkles

Wrinkles vs. fine lines and the science of aging skin

5 minute read

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We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

More often than not, we see “wrinkles and fine lines” lumped together. So we thought we’d set the record straight: what’s the distinction between fine lines and wrinkles? Do fine lines turn into wrinkles? So many questions, so little reputable info out there in Internet Land. We know aging, wrinkles, mortality, etc. aren’t the most comfortable subjects to contemplate, but hang in there—we’re right here with you!

The short answer to the question—what’s the difference between fine lines and wrinkles, and are they connected?—is that the two are similar, but different. Fine lines can be a precursor to wrinkles (but aren’t always). And, importantly, fine lines are a little easier to improve with topical skincare and in-office treatments by a cosmetic dermatologist. Wrinkles, the deeper variety, are not easy to “iron out,” no matter how much money you throw at them (and we’re not saying you should want to get rid of wrinkles, by the way—to each their own).

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All about aging skin

To get the official introductions and definitions out of the way: aging-related changes in the skin are generally linked to a reduction in collagen, elastin, and hydration, all of which contribute to the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Skin aging is divided into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic aging is the natural aging process not under your control, involving the passage of years and genetic factors. Extrinsic aging is caused by factors you actually can control: diet, smoking, sun exposure, and stress management.

What are extrinsic causes of aging skin?

An illustrated diagram demonstrating extrinsic and intrinsic causes of aging. Text reads: "20s: Environmental damage and constant exposure to damaing UV rays begin to take their toll on skin. Cell renewal and turnover rates begin to decline. 40s: Collagen and elastin degrade, resulting in wrinkles. The skin is thinner and dehydration can be an issue. Dark spots and significant dullness appear."

A quick refresher: the primary culprits in aging skin are UV rays and harmful compounds called free radicals (produced when your skin is exposed to certain pollutants or UV rays). UV rays damage your skin by:

  1. Breaking down proteins that give structure to your skin

  2. Stimulating too much pigment, leading to discoloration or dark spots

Free radicals are unstable compounds. Because they’re missing electrons, they’ll try to nab them from other molecules. When free radicals steal electrons from your skin, that ends up warping the structure of it deep-down—that’s how fine lines and wrinkles start.

What are wrinkles caused by?

What causes wrinkles runs deeper than just fine lines gone rogue. Try thinking of it like this: the distinction between fine lines and wrinkles is similar to that between a rectangle and a square. All rectangles are squares, but not all squares are rectangles. All wrinkles start as fine lines, but not all fine lines are wrinkles! Get it?

Another helpful analogy: fine lines are the tip of the iceberg, while deeper wrinkles represent the part of the iceberg underwater that we can’t see. Wrinkles originate in the deep, underlying support structures of the skin of the face.

Changes associated with aging are characterized by a reduction in collagen and elastin, and a loss in hydration—all of which happen at a deeper level in the skin, and all of which contribute to the appearance of lines and wrinkles. You can do your part by sticking to a daily skincare routine, drinking plenty of water, and protecting your skin from the sun. You can also seek out “professional help”—more on that later!

Where are the most common places for wrinkles to develop?

  • Parts of the face that are associated with expression movement (around the eyes and mouth) are particularly vulnerable to wrinkle formation.

  • What are common activities people do that cause wrinkles in these places?

  • Smiling, laughing, squinting, frowning, pursing lips (smoking, using a straw)

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What causes fine lines?

There’s no specific age at which fine lines develop—they can happen to anyone. But they’re more likely to happen if you’re repeatedly exposed to the extrinsic factors of skin aging we talked about above: unprotected exposure to UV rays, smoking, and squinting (for a few common examples) make lines and wrinkles more likely to develop earlier in life.

If you’re starting to see fine lines where you’d rather not, it’s time to start taking your skincare routine—especially sunscreen—more seriously. Wrinkles are typically thought of as deeper than fine lines, so if you don’t want them to go any deeper, wear sunscreen every day, keep your skin moisturized, and try some “anti-aging” treatments. Curology members can message their Curology provider any time to adjust their treatment plan.

Portrait of a woman. She is pointing to smears of cream on her eyes.

How to prevent fine lines and wrinkles

Don’t forget your first line of defense against fine lines and wrinkles: sunscreen! It’s way easier to prevent these things in the long run than it is to fix them later. We recommend using a broad spectrum SPF of at least 30, reapplying every 1-2 hours, and staying out of direct sunlight as much as possible (cover up, wear a hat, wear sunglasses… you get the picture).

Moisturizing is an essential wrinkle-prevention step, too. Not only does it keep your skin hydrated and glowy, it also helps maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier, keeping everything working smoothly.

Take it to the next level by using retinoids—such as tretinoin (available by prescription only). Tretinoin is tried-and-true in studies for helping out our skin in a variety of ways, including skin cell turnover (which makes it helpful for acne, too). It’s even regarded by dermatologists as the “gold-standard” of topical treatments. If you’re interested in how to get tretinoin, you can ask your Curology provider if it’s right for you.

Over-the-counter (OTC) ingredients that can help prevent fine lines and wrinkles:

  • Retinol is a vitamin A derivative (as is tretinoin) but is available over-the-counter.

  • Alpha hydroxy acids

  • Hyaluronic acid

  • Niacinamide

  • Antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, and E)

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What to do about wrinkles and fine lines

If by now you’re thinking, “what can I do about wrinkles?!”, there are some options to improve them—mostly involving a visit to a cosmetic dermatologist’s office. As far as we’re concerned, we aren’t anti-aging—we’re all for aging well, meaning putting wellness first, embracing the natural changes we all go through over the course of our lives, and in the meantime, doing what we can to mitigate the extrinsic causes of damage-related “aging” of the skin.

All that to say, no judgment if you want to spring for some in-office cosmetic dermatology treatments, such as:

  • Laser resurfacing

  • Fillers/injectables

  • Chemical peel

  • Microdermabrasion

  • PRP (platelet-rich plasma) microneedling or injections

While pricy, these in-office dermatological treatments can offer (in some cases) immediate and long-lasting results. Topical treatments may help, too—it’s typically a good idea to combine long-term use of topical skincare (like your Curology custom cream) with an in-office treatment plan designed to get the results you’re going for. You can always book a consultation in-person with a dermatologist near you to find out what in-office wrinkle treatments may be right for you.

A woman smiling and resting her head in her hand, posing with the Curology set.

Start by simply smoothing fine lines with Curology

If you’re looking for effective, affordable, age-defying skincare, we’re here for you. Sign up for a free trial of Curology to get started (you just pay $4.95 shipping & handling). It’s easy: just take a quick questionnaire, upload photos, and your Curology provider will make sure you’re a good fit (each provider is a licensed medical professional, so think of it like the online version of an in-office consultation). Your custom Curology cream can be formulated to target your skin-aging concerns with prescription-strength ingredients that studies show improve collagen production, boost skin cell turnover, fade age spots, and—yes!—smooth out fine lines. Best of all, we deliver your bottle to your door automatically and cut out the overpriced mark-ups commonly seen with other “anti-aging” skincare products out there. We’ve got your back!


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