We'll admit that we spend a good deal of time examining our skin. As in one inch away from the mirror, directly under our bathroom's fluorescent lighting, pulling our faces every which way type of examining. And though some of the time we do, indeed, have an agenda (like trying to tweeze that teensy tiny brow hair, or banish that one annoying blackhead), more often then not we're examining our skin just for the heck of it—a scary pastime indeed.
And not surprisingly, as the years have worn on, we've made some pretty interesting discoveries. One being smile lines. (Although we would have noticed them eventually thanks to their increasingly conspicuous stature.) Are they harming us? No. Do they pose a potential health risk? No. Is it annoying when our setting powder makes a cozy home in them? Yes.
So we had some questions. For instance, what are they, why do we get them, and what can we do to make them less obvious? To get some answers, we talked to two leading experts in the skincare industry: Kavita Mariwalla, MD, FAAD, a top dermatologist based in New York City, and Renée Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician and creator of Renée Rouleau Skincare. Keep reading to find out what you can do to help and prevent smile lines.
What Are They?
According to Mariwalla, smile lines are the common—aka non-scientific—term for nasolabial folds. Which, she explains are the vertical lines that extend from the sides of the nose and curve around the mouth. They're a natural part of aging and therefore can be tricky to treat unless your willing to opt for a cosmetic procedure. (But more on that in a minute.)
Why Do We Get Them?
"Smile lines occur due to the natural loss of volume that occurs in the face with age," Mariwalla says. "Our cheek compartment has seven fat pads that descend and shift with time. The smile lines become more prominent due to the way these fat pads shift and move."
And though smile lines are basically an inevitable and a natural part of the aging process, Mariwalla does stipulate that certain lifestyle factors can make them worse. For instance, sun damage, sudden drastic weight loss, or a history of yo-yo dieting (which over time can deplete our natural collagen stores.)
How Are They Treated?
Though comparatively invasive procedures like mid-face-lifts are an option to remedy smile lines, it's a pretty extreme strategy. Instead, if they're really bothering you, Mariwalla suggests going the route of injections.
"Fillers that contain hyaluronic acid can be injected to improve the appearance of these lines. Typically, I recommend these types of injections to start as they have a more natural and immediate result. Then, I suggest a great skincare routine for maintenance and further prevention."
The key? Retinols or skincare products rich in peptides and collagen-building properties, which can improve skin elasticity to help slow down the formation of smile lines and other kinds of wrinkles. According to Mariwalla, keeping the skin amply hydrated is key.
Rouleau agrees, explaining that although topical skincare products can act as a strategic preventative measure when it comes to the formation of smile lines, they can't do much in the case of reversal. Fillers, she says, are the only quick fix.
Smile Lines vs. Dimples
Apparently, this is where many people get confused, and as Mariwalla points out, it's important to note the difference here as it can impact your treatment plan.
"Some people have dimples that they mistake as smile lines, but the lines are really part of their dimple complex—especially if it seems like you have double parentheses right near the angle of your mouth." Which, she explains to us, is much harder to correct.
Adopt a Skincare Routine
So since the only thing we can truly do at home for smile lines is adopt a top-notch skincare routine rich in peptides, antioxidants, SPF, and retinol, we thought we'd round up six of the expert and editor-approved products to get the job done. Keep scrolling for the top-notch formulas to help keep smile lines at bay.
For cleansing, this clay-infused pick was recommended to us by Mariwalla. While many of the clay-rich skincare products on the market can be harsh and dehydrating to the skin, this one features mineral and coconut-derived cleansers (plus aloe and sugar beet extract!) to keep the skin's barrier in tip-top shape. Simultaneously, the Canadian glacier and Brazilian volcanic clays will help purify the complexion by nixing pore cloggers like dirt and makeup.
According to Byrdie's editorial director, Faith Xue, this is one of the most effective retinol formulas money can buy. In fact, she says you'll see results pretty much instantly. Here's the magic: Feather-weight in texture, this potent, non-irritating elixir helps ease the look and depth of fine lines and even deeper-set workings like smile lines. Plus, it will even the tone and texture of the skin, thanks to ingredients like caffeine, which help the retinoid penetrate more efficiently into the skin.
A cult favorite among celebrities, experts, and Byrdie editors alike, this retinol serum from celebrity esthetician Shani Darden is one the best formulas you can try if you're looking for a simple yet powerfully effective formula to smooth lines and wrinkles while evening and brightening the look of your skin. Plus, there's zero sting-factor.
Another pick by Mariwalla, this super-advanced formula fights wrinkles with a powerful complex of proxylane, blueberry extract, and phytosphingosine to restore soft, supple, and line-free skin. How? It helps combat inevitable fine lines and wrinkles caused by advanced glycation end-products (A.G.E.).
This innovative formula is great for all skin types and one of the best we've seen, thanks to its ultra-high peptide count. Its patented PSP formula features a nourishing blend of proteins (like human growth factors, interleukins, and other cytokines), which all help to rebuild the skin barrier and ease wrinkles and smile lines while infusing skin with essential levels of moisture. It's one of Mariwalla's favorites.
To be honest, we used to have a hard time with our daily SPF habit. If we're honest, most formulas either smell or leave a not-so-flattering tinge of ashiness behind. However, this formula created by Renée Rouleau is a total gamechanger. It's the crème de la crème when it comes to formulation (it features octinoxate, micronized zinc oxide, octisalate, and anti-inflammatory agents like green tea and licorice extract.) It never feels greasy, and it magically manages to look beautiful under our foundation—hardly a small feat!