Fine lines and wrinkles have a nasty way of sneaking up on you and may appear earlier than you expected. The expression lines that occur during natural facial movement suddenly take longer to disappear, before they stop disappearing altogether. If you’re a particularly happy person, you may be worried about developing smile lines, or laughter lines – but what causes smile lines? When do they usually appear? Can you prevent them? Here’s how to get rid of smile lines…
What Are Smile Lines?
Smile lines are, quite literally, the fine lines or wrinkles that form when you smile. They include the nasolabial folds that run from the corners of your nose to the corners of your mouth and the crow’s feet wrinkles which are visible at the corner of each eye. Some people even scrunch their nose when they smile or laugh which can cause little wrinkles at the top of the nose that are endearingly termed ‘bunny lines’.
What Causes Smile Lines?
Smile lines are naturally caused by the repetitive movements of our facial muscles when we smile and laugh. Over time, this movement causes the tissue beneath the expression lines to thin which results in the wrinkles remaining even when we are not performing the facial expression . These wrinkles are then made worse as our skin loses collagen and elastin.
The smile lines around the mouth, better known as the nasolabial folds, begin to appear around the age of 25 and become more noticeable with increasing age . In addition to being caused by repetitive movement and collagen and elastin loss, these smile lines are also a consequence of age-related changes in facial fat and overall facial volume loss .
These changes cause the skin to ‘sag’ which can make the nasolabial smile lines appear deeper.
To a certain extent, this means that fine smile lines and wrinkles are an inevitable part of natural aging. However, deep smile lines and premature (early-appearing) smile lines are largely down to environmental and behavioral factors.
These lifestyle factors include:
- Not Wearing Sunscreen
- A High-Sugar Diet
- Lack of Sleep
Of which, the top 3 lifestyle causes of smile lines are:
1. Not Wearing Sunscreen
Approximately 90% of visible facial skin aging is due to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sun exposure . UV radiation can be broken into UVA and UVB which both affect the skin in slightly different ways.
UVB rays have more energy than UVA rays but can only penetrate the epidermis. They are easily absorbed by DNA and melanin which causes skin cancers and pigmentation changes.
You can generally tell if you have experienced skin damage from UVB as it causes sunburn. UVB rays are particularly strong in the summer months and during the hours of 11 am to 3 pm.
UVA rays have less energy than UVB rays but can penetrate deeper into the skin where they produce free radicals that can damage DNA and breakdown collagen and elastin. This means that they are the main culprit when it comes to premature skin aging.
The damage caused by UVA rays is accumulative and doesn’t appear until years down the line which means that most people are completely unaware that their skin is being damaged.
To make matters worse, the strength of UVA rays remains relatively constant all year round, which means that even on cold and cloudy days they can still damage your skin. They can even pass through glass!
This means that improper sun protection is likely to be the number one cause of deep smile lines.
Second to sun-damage, smoking is another leading cause of premature skin aging. Smoking reduces the blood flow to the skin which deprives the skin of oxygen and vital nutrients. Smokers also have fewer collagen and elastin fibers in their skin and deeper wrinkles. In fact, the more frequently a person smokes, the more wrinkles they are likely to have. For example, some research has found wrinkling, such as smile lines, to be three times worse in smokers than in non-smokers .
Another way that smoking can contribute to smile lines is via the facial movements that are required to smoke a cigarette. Each time a person smokes a cigarette they contract the muscles around their eyes and mouth  which can increase the risk of developing smile lines as well as worsening existing smile lines.
3. A High-Sugar Diet
One type of food that is particularly associated with increased skin aging is sugar. This is due to a process called ‘glycation’ which is where proteins, such as collagen, bond with sugar molecules without enzyme mediation. This reduces the ability of the collagen protein to function. The collagen in the skin can experience up to a 50% increase in glycation over a person’s lifetime .
This basically means that a diet high in sugar can reduce the elasticity of the skin, causing it to ‘sag’ and worsen the appearance of smile lines. In fact, some researchers even call this the ‘sugar-sag’.
How To Get Rid Of Smile Lines & How To Prevent Deep Smile Lines Altogether.
1. Wear Sunscreen Everyday
As mentioned above, up to 90% of premature skin aging is due to the damage caused by UV radiation from the sun, particularly UVA radiation. UVA rays are constant all year round, even on cloudy and rainy days, and, over time, cause the destruction of collagen and elastin within the skin.
The good news is that daily and correct sunscreen use can prevent the majority of this damage. In fact, research has found that those who wore a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily for four-years appeared younger than their counterparts who used sunscreen as and when they felt it was necessary. In fact, the researchers noted that their skin did not appear to age at all in that four-year period .
So, while daily sunscreen use is not going to turn back the clocks on any existing smile lines, it will help to prevent them from getting worse.
2. Avoid/Quit Smoking
As mentioned above, smoking is another key culprit in the formation of smile lines. For this reason, avoiding smoking is a must! But what if you’re already a smoker?
It has long been thought that the skin damage caused by smoking is irreversible but some research suggests that this may not be the case!
A small study looked at how quitting smoking affected the skin of 64 women in terms of wrinkles, elasticity, brightness, texture, and pigmentation. At the beginning of the study period, the skin of the female smokers appeared to be, on average, 9 years older than their biological age. However, by the end of the study, this average age was reduced by 13 years .
In other words, quitting smoking improved their skin to the point that they actually looked younger than their biological age!
While this was a small study, it suggests that, not only can quitting smoking prevent smile lines from worsening but it may actually improve existing smile lines!
3. Use an Antioxidant Serum
It is not the UV radiation itself that breaks down collagen and elastin, but the free radicals that are produced when UVA rays are absorbed by the skin. Free radicals are unstable molecules with missing electrons that try to steal electrons from the healthy molecules within your skin. This causes a chain reaction which ultimately leads to cellular damage.
Antioxidants are molecules that have a spare electron which they are able to donate to the free radical in order to stabilize it and prevent it from damaging healthy molecules. Unfortunately, sunscreen can only prevent roughly 55%  of free radical production. For this reason, a lot of sunscreens now contain added antioxidants to improve protection.
However, including an antioxidant serum in your skincare routine is usually more effective than relying on the antioxidants in sunscreen alone. They often work well when combined together, for example; vitamin C and vitamin E, or green tea and caffeine.
4. Use a Retinoid
The word ‘retinoid’ is a catch-all term for vitamin A derivatives that can increase skin cell turnover and boost collagen and elastin production, as well as acting as an antioxidant. Research has found that retinoids can actually help undo a lot of sun damage, which means that they can help prevent and treat smile lines.
5. Regularly Exfoliate
While retinoids increase the rate of skin cell turnover by increasing the speed that new skin cells are created and transported to the surface of the skin in order to be shed, they do not actually have an ‘exfoliating’ effect. Combining retinoids with chemical exfoliants, such as AHAs or BHAs, can dramatically enhance their effects.
By exfoliating away dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, chemical exfoliants can reveal smoother and more radiant skin and make smile lines appear less pronounced. In addition, some chemical exfoliants, such as AHAs, can boost collagen production. Gentle physical exfoliation can also help in a similar way.
6. Moisturize/Hydrate Skin
When your skin is dehydrated skin, it can make even the smallest of blemishes appear more noticeable which means that smile lines may be partially caused by dehydrated skin. Have you ever noticed that your skin looks a lot older after a night of heavy drinking? It’s definitely not because you have dramatically aged overnight – it’s down to dehydration. Ensuring you are drinking enough water throughout the day can help keep skin looking plump and firm.
In addition, a number of products can dehydrate skin – particularly retinoids. A good moisturizer is an absolute must for all skin types, especially if you are using active skincare ingredients such as retinoids and chemical exfoliants!
7. Consider Botox
Botulinum toxin (a.k.a Botox) has been used for more than 20 years to treat fine lines and wrinkles by relaxing facial muscles and reducing their movement. Botox is a medication which means that it requires a prescription and should only be performed by someone with medical training.
Dynamic wrinkles, which are those that are seen during facial movement, respond much better to Botox than static wrinkles, which are those that are seen at rest. This means that Botox is better at preventing smile lines than it is at treating them. However, static wrinkles can still be improved with Botox, it may just take longer or require more treatments before results are seen.
The effects of Botox can be seen roughly two-weeks after treatment and last for at least three to four months. This means that frequent treatments are required to keep on top of smile lines which can end up being costly. In addition, there have been some instances where people have developed antibodies to Botox with frequent and prolonged treatment  and, while there is very little evidence to support this, starting Botox treatments for smile lines at a young age may mean that it becomes less effective over time.
Botox may be more effective for certain types of smile lines than for others. For example, it can be useful for the ‘crow’s feet’ smile lines around the eyes and for the ‘bunny’ smile lines on the nose but may be less effective at treating the ‘nasolabial fold’ smile lines.
In addition, smiling is an incredibly important social cue and smile lines generally indicate a true smile (known as a Duchene smile), so you want to be sure that Botox doesn’t completely limit these facial movements!
8. Dermal Fillers
Fillers are products that are injected within or beneath the skin to correct facial volume loss and smooth fine lines. Examples include fat, collagen, and hyaluronic acid, with the latter being the most common .
Injecting dermal fillers into the cheek area can provide extra volume and reduce cheek sagging which contributes to the nasolabial fold smile lines. Dermal fillers can also be injected directly into the nasolabial smile line to help minimize it. However, this should only be performed by a well-trained practitioner as there is a major facial artery in this area .
Summary – Smile Lines & How To Treat Them
Smile lines are the fine lines or wrinkles that form when you smile or laugh. They generally include the nasolabial folds, crow’s feet, and bunny lines. They are naturally caused by the repetitive movements of the facial muscles that are used when we smile but are made worse with smoking, a high sugar diet, and nor wearing sunscreen regularly.
There are a number of ways that you can get rid of smile lines and/or prevent them from worsening, including:
- Using sunscreen every day
- Avoiding or quitting smoking
- Adding an antioxidant serum into your skincare routine
- Using a retinoid
- Regularly exfoliating skin
- Ensuring skin is adequately hydrated
- Botox treatments
- Dermal fillers
How Long Does It Take To Get Rid Of Smile Lines?
It will take at least three months to see any benefits from skincare products or treatments that increase collagen production and at least two weeks to see any benefit from Botox injections.
However, with some treatments such as exfoliating and hydrating skin, you may see small but visible improvements straight away. This is because they are not directly treating the smile lines but are targeting factors that can make smile lines appear worse.
When it comes to preventative treatments, you are unlikely to see improvements until years down the line. In this situation, you will mostly notice other people’s smile lines getting worse while yours remain the same. In other words, your smile lines may become age-appropriate.
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