Whether you're 35 and just beginning to see the first signs of aging, or 55 with skin that isn't exactly keeping your birthday a secret, seeking ways to reduce wrinkles is probably on your agenda.
At the same time, experts say, many of us are losing the wrinkle battle, watching helplessly as the glow of youth goes on the dimmer switch.
"Many women as well as men believe that aging skin is inevitable, but with the information and technologies we have today, you really can look as young as you feel," says Robin Ashinoff, MD, a dermatologist at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
To help put you on the right path, WebMD asked Ashinoff and several other experts what really works to reduce wrinkles. What follows are 23 ways experts say you can make a difference. While some require a visit to the dermatologist, many are things you can do on your own.
How to Reduce Wrinkles: What You Can Do
1. Avoid the sun. It's the No. 1 cause of wrinkles, with dozens of studies documenting the impact. In one study that looked at identical twins, New York plastic surgeon Darrick Antell, MD, found sun exposure was even more important than heredity. Siblings who limited sun time had fewer wrinkles and looked younger overall than their sun-worshiping twins.
2. Wear sunscreen. If you must go out in the sun, the American Academy of Dermatology says, wear sunscreen! It will protect you from skin cancer, and help prevent wrinkles at the same time.
3. Don't smoke. Some of the research is still controversial, but more and more studies are confirming that cigarette smoke ages skin -- mostly by releasing an enzyme that breaks down collagen and elastin, important components of the skin. Sibling studies done at the Twin Research Unit at St. Thomas Hospital in London found the brother or sister who smoked tended to have skin that was more wrinkled and up to 40% thinner than the non-smoker.
4. Get adequate sleep. Yale dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD, says that when you don't get enough sleep, the body produces excess cortisol, a hormone that breaks down skin cells. Get enough rest, Perricone says, and you'll produce more HGH (human growth hormone), which helps skin remain thick, more "elastic," and less likely to wrinkle.
5. Sleep on your back. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) cautions that sleeping in certain positions night after night leads to "sleep lines -- wrinkles that become etched into the surface of the skin and don't disappear once you're up. Sleeping on your side increases wrinkles on cheeks and chin, while sleeping face-down gives you a furrowed brow. To reduce wrinkle formation, the AAD says, sleep on your back.
6. Don't squint -- get reading glasses! The AAD says any repetitive facial movement -- like squinting -- overworks facial muscles, forming a groove beneath the skin's surface. This groove eventually becomes a wrinkle. Also important: Wear sunglasses. It will protect skin around the eyes from sun damage -- and further keep you from squinting.
7. Eat more fish -- particularly salmon. Not only is salmon (along with other cold-water fish) a great source of protein -- one of the building blocks of great skin -- it's also an awesome source of an essential fatty acid known as omega-3. Perricone tells WebMD that essential fatty acids help nourish skin and keep it plump and youthful, helping to reduce wrinkles.
8. Eat more soy -- So far, most of the proof has come from animal studies, but research does show certain properties of soy may help protect or heal some of the sun's photoaging damage. In one recent human study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers reported that a soy-based supplement (other ingredients included fish protein and extracts from white tea, grapeseed, and tomato, as well as several vitamins) improved skin's structure and firmness after just six months of use.
9. Trade coffee for cocoa. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006, researchers found cocoa containing high levels of two dietary flavanols (epicatchin and catechin) protected skin from sun damage, improved circulation to skin cells, affected hydration, and made the skin look and feel smoother.
10. Eat more fruits and vegetables. The key, says Kraus, are their antioxidant compounds. These compounds fight damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells), which in turn helps skin look younger and more radiant, and protects against some effects of photoaging.
11. Use moisturizer. "Women, especially, are so concerned with antiaging products they often overlook the power of a simple moisturizer. Skin that is moist simply looks better, so lines and creases are far less noticeable," says Ashinoff.
12. Don't over-wash your face. According to dermatologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center, tap water strips skin of its natural barrier oils and moisture that protect against wrinkles. Wash them off too often, and you wash away protection. Moreover, unless your soap contains moisturizers, you should use a cleanser instead.
Topical Treatments That Reduce Wrinkles
Studies show the following ingredients can reduce wrinkles. Most are found in a variety of skin-care treatments, both prescription and over-the-counter.
13. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). These natural fruit acids lift away the top layer of dead skin cells, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, particularly around the eyes. New evidence shows that in higher concentrations, AHAs may help stimulate collagen production.
14. Retinoids (including Retin A). The only FDA-approved topical treatment for wrinkles is tretinoin, known commercially as Retin A. Ashinoff says this prescription cream reduces fine lines and large wrinkles, and repairs sun damage. Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A found in many over-the-counter products. Studies show that in a stabilized formula, in high concentrations, it may be as effective as Retin A, without the side effects, such as skin burning and sensitivity.
15. Topical vitamin C. Studies at Tulane University, among others, have found it can increase collagen production, protect against damage from UVA and UVB rays, correct pigmentation problems, and improve inflammatory skin conditions. The key, however, may be the type of vitamin C used. To date, most of the research points to the L-ascorbic acid form as the most potent for wrinkle relief.
16. Idebenone. This chemical cousin to the nutrient coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)is a super-powerful antioxidant. In one study published recently in the Journal of Dermatology, doctors found that with just 6 weeks of topical use, there was a 26% reduction in skin roughness and dryness, a 37% increase in hydration, a 29% decrease in lines and wrinkles, and a 33% overall improvement in sun-damaged skin. Other studies have found similar results.
17. Growth factors. Part of the body's natural wound-healing response, these compounds, when applied topically, may reduce sun damage and decrease lines and wrinkles, while rejuvenating collagen production, studies have shown.
18. Pentapeptides. The results of a study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggested pentapeptides can increase collagen production in sun-damaged skin. Several subsequent studies (including one presented at a recent national dermatology conference) showed that when topically applied, pentapeptides stimulated collagen production and diminished lines and wrinkles.
Medical/Spa Treatments That Reduce Wrinkles
19. Botox. An injection of this purified version of the Botulinum toxin A relaxes the muscle just underneath the wrinkle, allowing the skin on top to lie smooth and crease-free.
20. Wrinkle fillers. Doctors fill wrinkles with a variety of substances, including collagen, hyaluronic acid, and other synthetic compounds. Popular treatments include Restylane, Juvederm, and ArteFill, among others.
21. Laser/light resurfacing. Here, energy from a light source -- either a laser or a pulsed diode light -- removes the top layer of skin, causing a slight but unnoticeable skin "wounding." This kicks the skin's natural collagen-production system into high gear, resulting in smoother, more wrinkle-free skin.
22. Chemical peels. In this treatment, one of a variety of different chemicals is used to "burn" away the top layer of skin, creating damage that causes the body to respond by making more collagen. You end up with younger-looking, smoother skin.
23. Dermabrasion. A vacuum suction device used in tandem with a mild chemical crystal, dermabrasion helps remove the top layer of skin cells and bring new, more evenly textured skin to the surface. In the process, fine lines and wrinkles seem to disappear.