Anti-Aging: How to wage war on wrinkles

It’s an inescapable fact of life: wrinkles happen. Aging does not discriminate; it inevitably strikes us all, and our faces show it. Although there's no miracle cure for the effects of time on our skin, medical advances continue to bring new, effective ways to hold on to our youthful appearance.

Stop at any cosmetics counter and you will see an array of beauty products claiming to reverse the signs of aging. The challenge is to separate the fact from fiction to find what really works.

As in any battle, the key is understanding the opponent. Contrary to popular belief, a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work when it comes to wrinkles. There are three different types of wrinkles: those caused by sun, by facial contractions, and by genetics and aging. Each requires a different type of treatment.

Wrinkles caused by sun damage, or photoaging, are the easiest to combat because they are the easiest to prevent. Experts agree that the best line of defense is to use a good sunblock every day. “Look for a product with SPF 30,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. “Products with zinc and titanium are especially effective, as they block both UVA and UVB rays.”

Sun exposure causes collagen in the skin to break down, which causes fine lines and wrinkling. Products with antioxidants such as vitamin A, also known as retinoids, and vitamin C prompt skin to produce more collagen and diminish the effects of sun damage. Exfoliants such as alpha-hydroxy acids, which are derived mostly from milk and fruit products, also stimulate collagen production and smooth wrinkles by removing dead skin. Christine Poblete-Lopez, MD, assistant program director of the Cleveland Clinic dermatology department, recommends a skin care regimen involving the use of alpha-hydroxy acids and retinoids. “They improve a variety of skin problems, including fine wrinkles, and delay the aging process. Cosmeceutical products with these active ingredients can be dispensed at a physician's office and contain higher concentrations than you would get over the counter,” she says.

The way we move our faces every day causes wrinkles that are more difficult to prevent and treat. These include “crow’s feet” and lines around the mouth. You may have heard that there are facial exercises you can do to prevent such wrinkles from forming, but don't believe it. Repetitive movement causes the wrinkling, so these exercises will actually do more harm than good. “Facial contractions cause the skin to bend, wearing away its own natural collagen and hyaluronic acid,” says Karyn Grossman, MD, of Grossman Dermatology in Santa Monica, California. “Traditionally these types of wrinkles have best been treated with Botox.”

Botox is a nerve-paralyzing agent injected into the skin that prevents the muscle contractions that cause wrinkles. A treatment lasts between four and six months and then slowly wears off. Although popular, Botox injections are a very detailed procedure that should only be done in a doctor’s office by a trained professional. Beware of creams that profess to contain similar ingredients; even if the claims are true, such substances must be carefully inserted into just the right muscles, and rubbing a toxin on your face could have disastrous results.

Wrinkles that no one can escape are those caused by genetics and aging. These include smile lines, which extend from the nose to the mouth. New skin-tightening procedures such as Thermage, which uses radio-frequency technology to heat and tighten the skin from within, are now used to diminish wrinkles caused by aging.

“The use of soft tissue fillers, such as Restylane, Perlane, or Radiesse, is also very effective in treating these types of wrinkles,” says Poblete-Lopez. This process, known as soft tissue augmentation, involves the injection of a fatlike substance into the skin to elevate deep wrinkles. These procedures are very effective, but like Botox, should be performed only by a skilled professional.

All these advances in technology have made the war on wrinkles increasingly winnable. What cosmetics companies don’t want you to know, however, is that your most powerful weapon in this battle doesn’t come in a jar. “The best thing anyone can do to prevent wrinkles is to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” Grossman says. In addition to a good skin care routine, she recommends the following:

• Use a broad spectrum SPF daily on all exposed areas of skin. Make sure to reapply midday if you are working and hourly if you are outside playing sports, relaxing, or shopping.

    -- Don't smoke, drink, or take recreational drugs.
    -- Maintain a healthy and stable weight, avoiding large multiple weight swings.
   --  Get plenty of rest each night to allow your body to repair the damage done during the day.

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