Unraveling the Wrinkle Mystery: When Do Wrinkles Start and How to Minimize Them?

Written by Megan Foley — February 28, 2024

Unraveling the Wrinkle Mystery: When Do Wrinkles Start and How to Minimize Them?

This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Dendy Engelman, Board-certified Dermatologist. 

No matter your age, wrinkles can feel like a looming threat. It’s easy to feel like we’re racing against the clock, slathering on skincare in hopes that it keeps the creases at bay. But, despite their prevalence, there’s still a veil of mystery surrounding exactly how – and when – wrinkles appear. 

We’re here to shed light on wrinkles, how they form, and what you can do to soften them. After all, knowledge is power, and understanding wrinkles could be the key to maintaining smooth skin in all of life’s seasons.


Understanding the Anatomy of Wrinkles

Medically known as rhytids, wrinkles are lines and creases in the skin that don’t go away when you relax your facial muscles. While they’re a natural part of the aging process, many factors contribute to wrinkle formation. These factors fall under two different categories: intrinsic and extrinsic aging. 

What is Intrinsic Aging?

Intrinsic aging is most simply described as your body’s aging process from the inside out. It’s affected by your genetic makeup, free radical-related DNA damage, and hormonal shifts. 

With age, the body naturally starts to produce less collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. This change can be categorized as intrinsic aging and plays a large role in wrinkle formation. 

  • Collagen is a protein that your body produces to form connective tissue. It’s responsible for the skin’s strength, elasticity, and structure. But, collagen levels naturally decline with age, causing the skin to become weaker, thinner, and more prone to wrinkles. 
        • According to clinical research, the skin’s total collagen content decreases by approximately 1% per year in adulthood. 
        • Additionally, the skin’s collagen production is decreased by around 75% in individuals over age 80 when compared to that of 18 to 29-year-olds. 
  • Elastin is another protein that your body creates to give various tissues strength and elasticity. It’s extremely flexible, and it helps your skin effectively bounce back when it’s stretched or creased. Unfortunately, the body’s elastin stores are highly susceptible to damage from aging or environmental stressors, like UV ray damage. 
  • Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a natural substance that your body produces to cushion the joints and help the skin retain moisture. Aging causes hyaluronic acid production to decrease, causing drier, less resilient skin. Declining HA levels can also contribute to fine lines and wrinkles. 
      • Research indicates that the skin’s HA content can start dropping in your 20s and may be reduced to 50% by age 50. 

    Along with collagen, elastin, and HA, the skin’s structure relies on ample fat cells. With age, these cells shrink and shift downward, causing the skin to become thinner and weaker. This change compounds with damaged proteins to trigger wrinkles. 

    What is Extrinsic Aging?

    Extrinsic aging involves external factors that worsen or accelerate the natural aging process. The most prevalent extrinsic aging factor is UV ray exposure from the sun, which causes cumulative skin damage over time.

    We’ll describe other extrinsic aging factors, like pollutants and stress, in greater detail below.

    According to clinical research, extrinsic aging can be characterized by:

    • Elastosis, which refers to degenerative changes in the dermis due to damaged elastin
    • Damage to the skin’s protein structure (such as collagen damage)
    • Inflammation in the skin

    The Age of Wrinkles: Unveiling the Timeline

    Of all the questions surrounding wrinkles, one is especially common: When do wrinkles start to appear?

    When Do You Start Getting Wrinkles?

    While we’d love to have a clear-cut answer, it truly varies from person to person. But, for most women and individuals assigned female at birth, dynamic wrinkles (from repeated facial expressions) start to appear around age 25, while age-related wrinkles become visible around age 45. 

    On average, men’s skin is 10 to 20% thicker than women’s. The thicker skin is, the more resistant it is to dynamic wrinkles. However, men still tend to develop more severe wrinkles than women, which may come down to occupational sun exposure and other lifestyle factors. 

    Normal wrinkles at 35 and younger result from repeated facial expressions. Also known as expression lines, these wrinkles tend to be shallow until later in adulthood. However, genetics and extrinsic factors can cause more prominent wrinkles in your 20s and 30s. 

    How Do Genetics Affect When Wrinkles Develop?

    Research indicates that up to 60% of variations in skin aging between people come down to genetic factors. Genetics influence how much collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid your skin produces. Additionally, hereditary factors affect the amount of melanin in your skin, and melanin provides natural protection against sun damage

    Generally, you may develop wrinkles at a similar age to your immediate family members. While we can’t change our genetics, we can slow wrinkle production (even with a genetic predisposition to them) with a healthy lifestyle and proactive skincare. 

    Average Wrinkles By Age: Which Facial Areas Develop Wrinkles First?

    Many people notice the earliest signs of wrinkles on the forehead and around the eyes. These areas are common sites of expression lines; raising your eyebrows can cause horizontal creases in the forehead, while smiling and laughing can cause crow’s feet around the eyes. 

    Later in life, you may start to develop deeper wrinkles in other areas of the face, like nasolabial folds (which are shaped like parentheses around the mouth) and vertical lines around the lips. 

    Various factors can accelerate wrinkle formation, making them appear sooner than usual. These fall under the category of extrinsic aging, as we discussed above, and may include sun exposure, pollution, and chronic stress, among other factors. 


    Decoding the Factors that Accelerate Wrinkles

    We’ve already discussed how genetics and the natural skin aging process lead to wrinkles. But, various extrinsic factors also play a role, with the potential to significantly accelerate wrinkle production. Here’s how:

  • UV ray exposure: Consistently applying SPF is one of today’s most popular anti-aging tips, and with good reason! The sun’s UV rays damage the skin at every level, causing DNA changes and compromised elastin fibers. Over time, this damage increases the risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer.  
        • UV exposure is responsible for up to 80% of visible signs of aging, including wrinkles!
  • Environmental toxins: Pollutants and other toxins in the air can contribute to wrinkles by increasing oxidative stress in the skin. Traffic-related air pollution, in particular, has been firmly linked to premature skin aging. 
  • Chronic stress: When you feel stressed out, your body releases a hormone called cortisol (AKA “the stress hormone”). Frequent cortisol exposure reduces collagen and hyaluronic acid production while damaging your skin’s current stores of collagen and elastin. In the long run, this can accelerate skin aging and lead to premature wrinkles. 
  • Smoking: Smoking is known to increase levels of enzymes called MMPs in the body, which directly damage collagen and elastin. Additionally, nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows blood vessels. This can reduce the flow of blood (with oxygen and vital nutrients) to the skin.
  • A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology found that current smokers have more facial wrinkling than non-smokers and past smokers. 
  • Dietary factors: Diets high in sugar and saturated fats can cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the skin, increasing the risk of wrinkles. On the other hand, an antioxidant-rich diet can protect your skin against wrinkles by reducing free radical damage. 
  • Alcohol: An occasional drink isn’t going to create wrinkles. However, heavy alcohol consumption over a prolonged period has been linked to increased wrinkles in the upper face and around the mouth. Not only is alcohol highly dehydrating, but it also limits your skin’s ability to produce collagen and elastin. 

  • Lifestyle Adjustments to Slow Wrinkle Formation

    Lifestyle adjustments are a powerful tool in slowing wrinkle formation. Consider these tips:

  • Slather on the SPF. UV radiation from the sun is a key risk factor for premature skin aging. Applying (and reapplying) SPF 30 or higher every morning, whether you plan to go outside or not, protects against photoaging. 
  • Load up on antioxidants. Limiting exposure to environmental toxins, like pollution, can be difficult. However, an antioxidant-rich skincare routine and diet can reduce the resulting free radical damage. 
  • Manage stress through meditation, journaling, exercise, talking to loved ones, and any other methods that work for you to limit cortisol exposure. 
  • Prioritize sleep. While you sleep, your skin has a chance to rebuild collagen and repair itself from UV ray damage. So, ensuring you receive 7 to 9 hours of high-quality sleep can help delay wrinkle onset. 

    Addressing Common Concerns About Wrinkles

    Still wondering about wrinkles? Let’s answer some FAQs about this prevalent skin concern:

  • What is the average age to get wrinkles?
  • Many people start to see the earliest signs of wrinkles at 25, with deeper wrinkles appearing around age 40. 

  • Do 30-year-olds get wrinkles?
  • Yes, 30-year-olds get wrinkles! It’s completely normal to have wrinkles (especially horizontal forehead lines and lines around the eyes) in your 30s. 

  • Is it normal to have wrinkles at 20?
  • Some individuals have fine wrinkles at 20, often on the forehead. This may come down to genetics or sun damage. 

  • When do forehead wrinkles start showing?
  • Forehead wrinkles generally start showing around age 25 and gradually deepen with age. 

  • Do forehead wrinkles go away?
  • Forehead wrinkles can go away somewhat with targeted wrinkle treatments, like silicone patches

  • At what age do eye wrinkles appear?
  • Eye wrinkles often appear around age 25. The skin around the eyes is thinner than the skin on the rest of the face, making it particularly prone to signs of aging. 

  • Why do I suddenly have wrinkles?
  • You may suddenly have wrinkles from sleeping in a position that creases your skin. Other causes of aging, including aging, genetics, sun damage, and lifestyle factors cause wrinkles to develop gradually – not suddenly. 


    Embracing Aging Gracefully: Beyond Wrinkles

    After this in-depth discussion of wrinkles, let’s make one point clear – we’re here to embrace, never fear, the beauty of aging. Age is something to take pride in, and wrinkles are a natural part of life’s unique journey!

    Nonetheless, you can simultaneously accept wrinkles and strive for more radiant skin. Through sun protection, stress management, a healthy diet, sleeping well, and effective skincare, you can deeply care for your skin’s longevity (as a bonus, all of these habits also support your overall health). 

    So, start that daily self-care routine you’ve always wanted to try. In prioritizing your health, you can take a proactive stance against wrinkles. Lasting skin health, here we come!