What Causes Wrinkles and Sagging Skin?

Wrinkles and sagging skin are something many of us will see as we get older. But what actually causes our skin to change like this? 

In this post, we’re going to break down the reasons behind wrinkles and saggy skin. We’ll look at how important skin proteins like collagen and elastin play a part, plus how our daily habits can affect our skin. Understanding these factors can help you take better care of your skin and maybe even slow down these signs of aging. 

The Role of Collagen and Elastin

To understand facial wrinkles, let’s first take a peek at the science behind them. Meet the two most important proteins in your skin: collagen and elastin. They work like building blocks in the skin, maintaining its firmness and elasticity. Collagen provides structure and strength, while elastin gives the skin bounce, allowing it to return to its original position after stretching or contracting. 

With lower levels of collagen and elastin, the skin doesn’t have as much support or flexibility as it used to, leading to wrinkles and sagging. But why do we lose these proteins?

What Causes Wrinkles and Sagging Skin?

Collagen and elastin loss–and thus, wrinkles–is the result of a combination of several internal and external factors.

Natural skin aging

Aging is the primary cause of wrinkles and sagging skin. Over time, skin cells divide more slowly, less collagen and elastin is produced, and the inner layer of the skin, known as the dermis, begins to thin. These effects reduce the skin’s ability to retain moisture, leading to a loss of firmness and elasticity and the development of fine lines and wrinkles.

Sun exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a major contributor to premature skin aging. These rays damage the fibers in the skin responsible for its elasticity, particularly collagen. With repeated sun exposure, the skin loses its ability to repair itself, leading to photoaging–the premature formation of wrinkles and a leathery texture.


Genetics also play a crucial role in skin aging. Your genetic makeup influences how your skin looks and reacts to environmental factors. Some people are predisposed to more pronounced wrinkles due to their skin type or skin tone, both of which will impact the onset and severity of wrinkles.

Repeated facial expressions

Facial movements and expressions, like smiling, frowning or squinting, lead to fine lines and wrinkles. Each time you use a facial muscle, a temporary groove forms beneath the surface of the skin. As skin ages and loses its elasticity, it can’t spring back into place as easily, and these grooves become permanent features on the face.

Environmental pollutants

Exposure to environmental pollutants can accelerate aging by generating free radicals, unstable molecules that damage cells and cause oxidative stress in the body. When your skin is busy fighting that damage, it puts less energy into producing collagen and elastin. This effectively speeds up the aging process, resulting in earlier and more pronounced wrinkles.

Tobacco and alcohol use

Smoking significantly accelerates skin aging. Nicotine narrows the blood vessels in the outer layer of the skin, impairing blood flow. This deprives the skin of oxygen and essential nutrients, such as vitamin A. Similarly, alcohol dehydrates the skin, which can make wrinkles more noticeable and hasten their development.

Types of Wrinkles and How to Treat Them

Under the broad category of wrinkles, there are several distinct types. Each has its own causes and characteristics that play into determining the most effective methods for both treatment and prevention.

Dynamic Wrinkles

Dynamic wrinkles are the lines that appear when you make facial expressions. They’re caused by the repetitive movements of your facial muscles, like when you smile, frown or squint. As mentioned, over time, these repeated movements cause lines to form on the skin’s surface. 

Early on, dynamic wrinkles only show up when you’re moving your face, but they can eventually become permanent. Examples include crow’s feet, laugh lines, frown lines and glabellar lines, the vertical lines that appear between your eyebrows.. 

How to treat dynamic wrinkles at home

To reduce dynamic wrinkles without professional interventions, try facial exercises to strengthen the right muscles, use moisturizers and serums that boost skin elasticity, and make a conscious effort to control excessive facial expressions.

Professional treatments

In the world of aesthetic medicine, the to-go solution for dynamic wrinkles is Botox Cosmetic and other FDA-approved forms of the botulinum toxin. A dermatologist or other skin expert can precisely inject Botox into the muscles causing those lines and wrinkles, temporarily paralyzing them and forcing them to relax. If the muscle can’t contract, it can no longer create creases on the skin’s surface. 

With time and regular injections, lines etched on the skin will fade, leaving the area smooth and wrinkle-free.

Static Wrinkles

Static wrinkles are the lines and creases that remain visible even when your face is at rest. Unlike dynamic wrinkles, which are caused by muscle movement, static wrinkles develop as your skin loses collagen and elastin, becomes thinner, and loses moisture. 

Factors like long-term sun exposure, smoking, and poor diet can accelerate this process. These wrinkles tend to be deeper and include lines on the cheeks, neck and jowls. 

How to treat static wrinkles at home

To combat static wrinkles, using products that promote collagen production, such as retinol, and maintaining good hydration can be effective. 

Professional treatments

When it comes to treating static wrinkles, there are two main strategies: plumping the skin from below, and exfoliating the skin from above.

In the first category are dermal fillers. These cosmetic injectables plump up and smooth out these wrinkles, giving the skin a more youthful appearance. Depending on the filler, results can last for 6 months to over a year.

Alternatively, laser resurfacing works by removing the outer layers of skin, stimulating collagen production, and promoting the growth of new, smoother skin. The effects of laser resurfacing are long-lasting, but your skin will inevitably continue to age.

Gravitational folds

Gravitational folds refer to sagging and drooping of the skin. When skin loses its elasticity, the effects of gravity become more apparent, pulling the skin downwards. This results in sagging skin, especially around the jowls, neck, and eyebrows. 

How to treat them at home

Preventing gravitational folds involves maintaining overall skin health through a balanced diet, regular exercise and a skin care routine that focuses on hydration and firmness. 

In-office procedures

Depending on the location and severity of your loose skin, dermal fillers may be a good solution. By adding volume just below the skin’s surface, they can lift up sagging skin for a younger look.

Other in-office treatments revolve around deeply heating the skin, which shrinks collagen fibers for a firmer, younger look. Radiofrequency skin tightening and ultrasound therapy are two non-invasive therapies that do just that, working gradually to firm up loose skin with very little downtime or side effects.

If you’re dealing with extremely loose skin, you may consider a surgical procedure such as a face lift, neck lift or brow lift. If you’re willing and able to undergo the downtime associated with these procedures, you can enjoy long-lasting results and a faster, more dramatic change than non-invasive options can offer.

Our Top 10 Tips for Preventing Wrinkles at Home

Now that we’ve covered everything there is to know about the causes of wrinkles, what’s next? There’s a lot you can do at home to slow down their appearance and keep your skin looking youthful for longer. From lifestyle changes to simple skincare habits, the key to preventing wrinkles often lies in the everyday choices we make. 

Discover our top 10 tips to help ward off wrinkles and maintain smooth, healthy skin. 

1. Stay Hydrated: Keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Well-hydrated skin remains plump and less prone to wrinkles.

2. Use Sun Protection: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays with a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays. This helps prevent sun damage, a major cause of wrinkles.

3. Get Enough Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Sleep allows your skin to repair and regenerate, reducing the likelihood of wrinkles.

4. Eat a Balanced Diet: Consume foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids to support skin health and elasticity. Vitamin C in particular is a powerhouse that boosts collagen and protects your skin from the sun.

5. Moisturize Regularly: Apply a good quality moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated and maintain its natural barrier. Look for a cream with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid or other nourishing active ingredients.

6. Limit Alcohol and Tobacco Use: Alcohol dehydrates your skin, and smoking accelerates skin aging. Reducing these can help keep your skin looking youthful.

7. Use Gentle Skin Care Products: Choose products that are suitable for your skin type. Don’t use harsh scrubs that can damage your skin barrier, exfoliate once or twice a week and avoid overuse of retinoids.

8. Perform Facial Exercises: Regular facial exercises can tone your facial muscles, potentially reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

9. Avoid Repetitive Facial Expressions: Repetitive movements, like squinting or frowning, can lead to dynamic wrinkles. Being mindful of these expressions can help.

10. Wear Sunglasses: Protect the delicate skin around your eyes from sun damage and prevent squinting by wearing sunglasses outdoors.

The Bottom Line

Wrinkles and sagging skin, while primarily caused by a decline in collagen and elastin, are the result of the natural aging process and factors like sun exposure, genetics, lifestyle choices and even repetitive facial expressions. 

While dynamic wrinkles form from facial movements, static wrinkles are more a result of skin thinning and moisture loss. Gravitational folds such as jowls are a result of aging combined with gravity’s pull. 

To treat wrinkles of all kinds, there are various at-home and professional treatments ranging from a good skin care routine to advanced procedures like fillers, Botox and laser therapy. Most importantly, simple day-to-day preventative measures like staying hydrated, using sunscreen, eating healthily and limiting harmful habits like smoking and tanning can significantly slow down the aging process of your skin.

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