Wrinkles have lined the face of many a famous countenance. "Gravity catches up with all of us," said platinum blond actress Marilyn Monroe of the encroaching laugh lines that appeared on her face when she entered her late 30s. Wrinkles are a natural part of getting older. But over the years suntans, smiles, scowls, smoking -- and yes, even gravity -- also play a role in aging skin.
Time and Tide
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, or AAD, the intrinsic, or natural, aging process starts when you're in your 20s. Your skin doesn't produce as much collagen, a protein that makes your skin strong and resilient. Elastin is yet another protein in your skin that gives it elasticity -- the ability to stretch and recoil. After weathering from time and the elements, elastin becomes damaged. You probably won't see the results of these subtle changes for several years, says the AAD. Your genes largely dictate the intrinsic aging process, however. It's not unheard of for you to see signs of aging in your 20s or 30s.
Collagen makes up most of your skin, according to the Patient's Guide to Wrinkles -- some 80 percent of its dry weight. As you grow older, the rate at which your cells divide decreases, causing the dermis -- the layer of skin just under the part you can touch -- to wear down. Elastin and collagen fibers, both which act in concert to provide a support system for the outermost layer of skin weaken and unravel, explains the Cleveland Clinic, allowing telltale grooves to form. Another thing that comes along with aging is dry skin, which hinders your skin's ability to heal itself. This natural process causes wrinkles.
The aging process can be rushed along by other factors, the biggest being sun exposure. According to the Patient's Guide to Wrinkles, the tan that gives your face a healthy glow gives you a jump start on the intrinsic aging process by inflicting damage to both collagen and elastin. Ultraviolet light triggers the production of metalloproteinase, an enzyme that makes your skin produce collagen. With repeated sun exposure, damaged collagen attempts to repair itself over and over, but in a disorganized way, says the Cleveland Clinic. According to the AAD, if you live in a region that's extremely sunny, you may see wrinkles on your face in your 20s.
Each smile, frown or scowl contributes to wrinkles over time, lending some credence to the old warning, "If you make a face, it'll stick like that." According to the AAD, when you make an expression this causes the muscles in your face to form grooves right under your skin's surface. Once skin begins to lose its elasticity, it can't spring back to its former state. These expressions then become a permanent part of your countenance in the form of laugh lines and wrinkles.
Tobacco use contributes to wrinkles by reducing the amount of collagen your skin produces, says the Cleveland Clinic. Even the way you sleep at night can cause wrinkles -- if you sleep with your face scrunched up against the pillow, you get sleep lines which, like expression lines, eventually become a part of your face. Even gravity, from which no one can escape, encourages aging skin. As your skin loses its elasticity and structure, gravity takes over, causing droops and sags.
If you live a long life, there's very little you can do to prevent wrinkles. But there are ways that you can prevent premature wrinkles on your face, the most important being exercising thorough sun protection. Rub on sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 before you go outdoors. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when ultraviolet rays peak. Throw on a wide-brimmed hat whenever you go outside. Even if you already have some sun damage, it's never too late to prevent further photo-aging, says the AAD.