I noticed my own “crow’s feet” in my late twenties for the first time when a dermatologist pointed them out to me... before offering to inject them with Botox. And while I’ve always known that these fine lines were a natural part of getting older, I couldn’t help but wonder where the heck they came from, and why they suddenly decided to show up.
What causes under-eye wrinkles?
According to board-certified dermatologist Nava Greenfield, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, age, sun exposure, genetic factors, and environmental damage are all common culprits that lead to under-eye wrinkles.
“The skin around the eye is one of the thinnest areas of skin in the body and is very fragile,” says Dr. Greenfield. Over time, “the collagen in the dermis of the skin under the eyes breaks down and loses its volume and elasticity.”
Sun exposure can also contribute to under-eye wrinkles. Dr. Greenfield adds that people with lighter skin tones are more susceptible to under-eye wrinkles because people with darker skin tones have a greater amount of pigment, which acts as a natural sun protectant and “will prevent an acceleration of collagen breakdown.”
Applying unnecessary pressure to your eyes
The fact that I spend a lot of time staring (okay, squinting) at a computer screen isn’t doing me any favors. “Making wrinkles and holding them causes the matrix of collagen and elastin to bend,” says Jamé Heskett, holistic MD and author of The Well Path. “The more you bend something over time, the more it has a tendency to stay in that state.” For this reason, sleeping on your side or stomach—which smoosh-es your face against your pillow—can also contribute to fine lines beneath your eyes.
Under-eye wrinkles are most common among people with poor circulation (which tends to manifest as dark circles), very dry skin, and allergies. (For what it’s worth, I’ve got all three.) “Allergies cause inflammation. Inflammation increases swelling and decreases blood flow, leading to increased rate of damage to collagen and elastin,” says Dr. Heskett. “Additionally, itching or scratching the eye area can cause repeated wear and tear on the skin.”
What are the common types of under-eye wrinkles?
You’ll know under-eye wrinkles when you see them, but what you might not know is that there are two common types that typically show up around your eyes:
Dynamic wrinkles (aka “expression wrinkles”) often appear when you smile, squint, or make any sort of movement with your face. According to one study, this often is a result of losing collagen as you age.
While static wrinkles also come with age, they are different from dynamic wrinkles in that they are noticeable whether you’re contracting your facial muscles or not at all. (And over time, dynamic wrinkles can transform into static wrinkles.)
Under-eye wrinkle treatment and prevention: everything you need to know
While under-eye wrinkles are pretty much an inevitable part of the aging process, there are a few things you can do to stave them off. Below, find a few tips to care for the skin around your eyes, as per dermatologists.
1. Wear the right skin-care products at night: “Use a moisturizer and serum that’s specifically designed for the eyelids, which need a different composition of nutrients and moisture than other skin on the face and body,” says Dr. Greenfield. Additionally, “a nighttime retinol is important for the prevention of fine lines and wrinkles and for collagen build-up.” And if you plan on using retinol around your eyes, just be sure to select one that’s made specifically for use in that area.
2. Always (I repeat: always!) put on SPF: Wearing a zinc-based sunscreen and sunglasses every day can also help, as can using an antioxidant-based cream that will help protect from the free radical damage that causes signs of aging.
3. Shift your sleep habits: In addition to integrating particular products into your routine, certain lifestyle changes can help keep under-eye wrinkles at bay. For the reasons mentioned above, training yourself to sleep on your back (ideally with a silk pillowcase!) and taking a time-out from your laptop really do make a difference, says Dr. Heskett.
4. Give dry brushing a whirl: Dr. Heskett adds that dry brushing your face along the lymphatic channels can increase the circulation and, in turn, help prevent wrinkles on your entire visage—not just under your eyes.
How can you treat under-eye wrinkles once they’ve set in?
Once fine lines begin to work their way onto your face, there are a few things you can try to help make things smoother:
1. Invest in hyaluronic acid and antioxidants
Treating your fine lines starts with finding the right ingredients. “Hyaluronic acid plumps up the space between the collagen and elastin, giving them support so they [promote] smoother skin,” says Dr. Heskett. Other skin-smoothing stars include gentle antioxidants like caviar extract and resveratrol, which “counteract the collagen-damaging oxidation,” she says. Dr. Greenfield is also a fan of retinol moisturizers for treating wrinkles.
2. Stay away from fragrance in eye creams
“Avoid anything with a fragrance because lower eyelid skin can be very sensitive and react to allergens more commonly than skin elsewhere on the face or body,” Dr. Greenfield says. “If you have a sensitivity to an ingredient in a cream, it will likely present itself on the eyelids.”
3. Injectables and lasers can help to nix fine lines
“Micro amounts of Botox can be used under the eyes to smooth out wrinkles before they become permanently etched into the skin,” says Dr. Greenfied. “Lasers, such as Fraxel, can be used to build up collagen and smooth out the appearance of wrinkles. And hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Juvéderm or Belotero, can also help smooth out the appearance of wrinkles.”
4. In-office facials can stimulate collagen
Dr. Heskett points to treatments like microneedling with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or radio frequency to help remodel the collagen and elastin, while carboxytherapy can increase blood flow and restore collagen and elastin. These all work in both the short and long-term, so if you’re worried about under eye-wrinkles down the road, they may be worth trying out as preventative measures.
At-home under-eye wrinkle treatments
While a dermatologist might be able to offer the best treatment for under-eye wrinkles, you can also incorporate at-home methods that work to a positive effect. With that said, many natural treatments that are purported to minimize the appearance of wrinkles, such as applying cucumber slices to the eyes, aren’t confirmed to work.
If you’re looking for something effective, you might want to consider investing in products, like under-eye creams and masks, that are made with dermatologist-approved ingredients that promise to counteract wrinkles—or at the very least, keep them at bay.
Selecting an under-eye treatment
With that said, there are many under-eye treatments on the market, and what might help combat under-eye bags might not necessarily work for wrinkles.
Consider an under-eye treatment to specially tackle folds and creases, and don’t forget to take a look at the ingredients list. Dr. Greenfield recommends retinol, for instance, while Dr. Heskett proposes hyaluronic acid and antioxidants. One study has also shown that vitamin C can minimize the appearance of wrinkles, though it’s important to note that it works best when combined with healthy lifestyle habits. In any case, using SPF—which is known to help protect against premature signs of age—is key.
What to avoid when choosing an under-eye wrinkle treatment
When choosing an under-eye wrinkle treatment, it’s just as important to know which products to avoid. For one, it’s important to steer clear of products that aren’t made for use in the eye area, and as Dr. Greenfield previously mentioned, opt to steer away from eye creams that are infused with fragrance if you are sensitive to them.
Best products to treat under-eye wrinkles
In a clinical test, 91 percent of respondents said they looked less tired… full stop.
If you need an instant under-eye pick-me-up, reach for these masks, which Dr. Heskett swears will smooth out under-eye wrinkles (temporarily, at least) in 30 minutes. “I call them miracle patches,” she says, noting that they’re her go-to for use on clients before they hit the red carpet.
Dr. Greenfield is fan of this cream for use at night. It’s made with retinol, which stimulates cell turnover, and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines.
Made with a naturally occurring ingredient, known as bakuchiol, which is often considered a retinol alternative, this creme goes onto under eyes and helps to soften wrinkles.
This eye cream is made with moisturizing hyaluronic acid and peptides to smooth fine lines, and a dose of vitamin C to revive dullness around the eyes. As a bonus, it’s fragrance-free.
Preventative under-eye wrinkle products
Sunglasses like this pair from Ray-Ban can provide you with much-needed protection from sun. It features a plastic frame and round lenses with 100% UV protection. The lenses are also mirrored, which provided more protection than tinted varieties—and as a result, keep under-eye wrinkles at bay.
About the Experts
Nava Greenfield, MD, is a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. She received her medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University and completed her residency in dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
Jamé Heskett, MD, is a doctor and the founder of The Wellpath, a wellness center based in New York. She is also the author of The Well Path. She received her medical from The George Washington University and completed her residency at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
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