Wrinkle remedies

Dear Alice,

I am twenty-five years old yet have been noticing a lot of wrinkles around my eyes. I have started to use baby oil as an intense moisturizer — is this a good idea? Do you have any other suggestions for over-the-counter wrinkle remedies?

Dear Reader,

Before you purchase every anti-wrinkle product on the shelf, it's wise to consider the different causes of wrinkles. As people age, their skin produces less oil and the epidermis (outer skin layer) becomes dry. Collagen and elastin, proteins that help keep skin taut, begin to diminish in the underlying dermis. The skin then begins to sag, causing a wrinkled appearance. While this eventually happens to everyone, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) points to sun exposure and smoking as prime contributors to speeding up this process. A person’s propensity to wrinkle is also genetic. While there are many over-the-counter remedies that claim to reduce wrinkles, they can be costly and the results are often short-term.

So far, there's no cream that can eliminate wrinkles, but you can do certain activities to minimize or prevent further skin damage that can cause wrinkles and to improve the overall appearance of your skin.

  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize: Rich, emollient moisturizers help hydrate skin and "plump-up" fine lines with regular use. For those concerned about oil and clogged pores, oil-free lotions and creams are available over-the-counter; they can help reduce dryness that may lead to fine lines. With any new moisturizer, use caution when applying it to the area around your eye, as this region tends to be quite sensitive. Also, to avoid irritating your eyes, it’s helpful to not moisturize too close to them.
  • Seek sun protection factor (SPF) 15: According to the AAD, using a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 is a good way to limit harm to the skin from sun exposure. 
  • Consider the air in your bedroom and office: If you're surrounded by dry or heated air, using a humidifier while you sleep or work can help preserve some of your skin's moisture.

You mentioned that you have used baby oil. While baby oil does have similar moisturizing ingredients to common lotions, it doesn’t contain any sunscreen. It may help to relieve or prevent dryness, but many also find that it could be heavy or greasy, making it more suitable for the body than the face.

In addition to over-the-counter remedies, some medical treatments for wrinkles are available; however, they may not produce permanent results, can be quite costly, and are generally not covered by insurance as they're considered cosmetic. A dermatologist can prescribe tretinoin or retinoic acid, which has been shown to diminish fine facial wrinkles in some people. There are also chemical peels, collagen or botulinum toxin injections, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, and plastic surgery, just to name a few procedures.

You may also consider thinking about your wrinkles in a different way: Could your wrinkles actually be fine lines caused by dry, winter weather? Are you using a foundation around your eyes that can cake and cause a creased appearance that may be mistaken for wrinkles? Were you badly sunburned as a child, which could lead to premature wrinkling? Do you often squint your eyes? Even after thinking about the potential cause of fine lines or wrinkles, you may ask yourself why you want to make this change. Do you feel self-conscious about them? Another point to keep in mind is  culture typically plays a role in how people approach wrinkles, connected with cultural notions around beauty ideals and aging. With few positive images of people with less-than-perfect skin, it's easy to forget that wrinkles are a natural part of the skin's aging process. Some cultures even consider them to be beautiful and a symbol of wisdom.

Whether you embrace the look or want to minimize their appearance, speaking with a health care provider may help you determine the care and products that are most suited to your skin and its needs.

Last updated Sep 04, 2020
Originally published Feb 25, 2000