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 than 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 four leading experts in the skincare industry: Kavita Mariwalla, MD, FAAD, a top dermatologist based in New York City, Renée Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician and creator of Renée Rouleau Skincare, Anna Guanche MD, board-certified dermatologist and celeb beauty expert, and Alexis Parcells, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon.
Meet the Expert
- Kavita Mariwalla, MD, FAAD is an specialist in facial reconstruction, skin cancer detection and treatment, and is also an expert esthetician.
- Renée Rouleau is a celebrity esthetician and celebrated skincare expert.
- Anna Guanche MD is a board-certified dermatologist, celebrity beauty expert and founder of Bella Skin Institute.
- Alexis Parcells, MD is a board-certified plastic surgeon, owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery and founder of SUNNIE Wrinkle Reducing Studio.
What Are Smile Lines?
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 diet.
Keep reading to find out what you can do to help and prevent smile lines.
If you're bothered by your smile lines, 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."
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.
Guanche says that fillers are number one, but if you're looking into other options, she also suggests PDO (polydioxanone) threads. "PDO (polydioxanone) threads are medical grade threads that are thinner than a hair, made up of protein. A mini PDO thread lift can help decrease the volume in the lower face that creates more intense smile lines by pulling the skin up and back. Strategically placing the protein into the skin and leveraging the thread to pull the volume in the nasolabial folds up and back helps correct smile lines. The proteins used are dissolvable sutures that help lift and tighten the decreased elasticity in the skin. Mono threads can also be placed across the nasolabial folds and as they resorb, are replaced by collagen, thus volumizing the area."
Guanche also recommends radiofrequency microneedling as another non-invasive option. She explains, "Radiofrequency microneedling, such as the Bella FX, is a procedure that involves microneedling while delivering energy into the dermis of the skin, allowing collagen stimulation from the microneedling and skin tightening from the radiofrequency technology. This dual action technique helps tighten the skin, stimulate collagen, reduce pore size, and improve the overall skin texture and skin elasticity to tighten the skin, while maintaining a natural appearance. The firming and collagen stimulation benefits help reduce the appearance of smile lines."
Fraxel, the skin treatment made popular by singer Jhene Aiko, can also be used to treat smile lines. "The Fraxel 1550 is another procedure that can help reduce smile lines because of the microscopic laser columns that penetrate deep into the skin and help the body remodel its own collagen. The Fraxel 1550 helps reduce signs of aging by resurfacing the skin, stimulating collagen, and initiating the growth of healthy, new skin cells. When there is a micro-injury to the skin, it forces the body to generate more collagen to repair the injury, creating a more youthful appearance," says Guanche.
Adopt a Skincare Routine
Rouleau explains 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.
Parcells adds, "It is possible to reduce the appearance of laugh lines through your skincare routine. Look for products containing ingredients like retinol or vitamin C that promote collagen production and improve skin elasticity." Guanche notes, "Of course SPF daily helps prevent aging and subsequent deepening of lines as well as loss of elasticity. Regular and consistent use of topical tretinoin can help improve the quality of collagen in the skin, leading to a smoother appearance. Consistently moisturizing the skin can also help keep smile lines at bay."
Look for products with retinols or others 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.
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 soften smile lines.
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.
Retin-A (tretinoin) is a form of vitamin A that helps the skin renew itself by encouraging cell turnover. It's commonly prescribed for acne, fine lines, and sun damaged skin.
This serum is 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 of 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.
Phytosphingosine is a phospholipid, or a fat that’s naturally found in the outermost layer of the skin. It works to strengthen the skin barrier and keep irritants out, as well as improve the skin's ability to stay hydrated, firm, and intact.
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!
What causes smile lines?
Smile lines are unavoidable and a normal part of life as we get older. According to Parcells, "When we smile and laugh, both our mouth and eyes are animated. Over time, this causes creases to form."
Why is SPF important for avoiding wrinkles?
Wrinkles and fine lines are a natural part of aging, but sun damage accelerates this process considerably. Using SPF helps protect your skin from damaging UVA rays that cause premature aging.
How does retinol help with wrinkles and smile lines?
Retinol helps encourage skin cell turnover and increasing collagen production. The more collagen we have, the more plump and firm our skin looks.
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