Tight, firm skin is a telltale characteristic of a youthful face, while wrinkles are a clear indicator that a person has seen a fair number of years. But as much as the beauty industry and society at large have been trying to eliminate wrinkles and keep us looking young forever, we cannot stop our bodies from aging. If you don’t have creased skin already, you—yes, you—will eventually wrinkle. And that’s totally OK, no matter your age or gender.
If you still feel nervous about aging, know that prevention is key, and the decisions you make today can help you stay wrinkle-free for longer.
Why we get wrinkles
As we age, two major things happen to our skin. First, it gradually loses its ability to retain moisture, making it drier than it was in your teens. But that’s not all—older people just can’t produce the same amount of collagen as youngsters.
Collagen is a protein that gives structure to our skin, and you can think of it as the glue that keeps our bones, ligaments, and tissues together. When we are young, our bodies produce a large amount of it, making our skin so firm that it will literally bounce back into place when we stretch it.
As we get older, collagen production starts to drop along with, well, everything else. And that reduced supply is not as high-quality. This lack of collagen results in weaker skin that will wrinkle more easily as time goes by.
If you’re already thinking that bottle of collagen gummies you saw at the drugstore is the solution to all your wrinkle problems, think again. Upping your collagen count is more complicated than popping supplements every day. You can definitely try them, but you should know that the jury is still out on whether or not ingesting collagen will help return your skin to what it was before.
What you can do to prevent wrinkles
The best thing you can do is start a daily skincare routine to fight wrinkles as soon as you can. It’s never too late—every bit counts, no matter what stage of life you’re at.
Avoid the sun
Curbing your skin’s exposure to the sun is, by far, the biggest and most important step you can take toward younger-looking skin. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight and tanning devices destroy the collagen molecules in your skin, producing what dermatologists call photodamage. This causes up to 90 percent of visible skin damage, including wrinkles, dryness, and hyperpigmentation.
The more you protect yourself from the sun, the better. Sure, you can always turn into a modern-day vampire or ditch your entire wardrobe for clothes with UV protection—but you don’t have to.
Slathering any patch of visible skin with SPF 30 or higher every day is a great start. And when we say every day, we mean: Every. Single. Day—no matter the season or the weather forecast. Following the manufacturer’s directions will also help. This means applying the correct amount of sunblock—it’s more than you think—and reapplying every two to three hours.
You can also go the extra mile by wearing makeup and sunglasses with SPF protection, carrying a parasol, or rocking a wide-brim hat.
Quit smoking. And drinking.
You know what else is not good for collagen production? Smoking. Research shows people who smoke produce up to 22 percent less collagen than non-smokers, and lighting up even affects skin turnover—how fast your skin renews itself. Smokers also tend to have tiny wrinkles around their mouths from dragging their cigarettes. And if aesthetics aren’t enough, there are myriad other reasons why you should quit.
Drinking alcohol is also not great if youthful skin is what you’re going for. One of the main consequences of imbibing alcohol is dehydration—your liver uses a lot of the water in your body to process and break down alcohol, so all other organs, including your skin, lose out. To make matters worse, alcohol also makes your skin more vulnerable to sunburn.
We don’t have to sell you on all the benefits of drinking plenty of water every day. But if you need another reason, here’s it is: enough water for your body means your skin will be hydrated and plump, and wrinkles don’t show as much on plump skin. Simple as that.
But hydration from the inside is not enough. To make your skin as wrinkle-free as possible, you should also moisturize every day. Even if you’re young, adding other more complex ingredients like vitamin C or hyaluronic acid—more on that later—certainly won’t hurt.
“The sooner you can start a skin routine from soup to nuts, the better,” says Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University’s School of Medicine.
While you’re at it, make sure you keep your skin clean. Beyond the regular sweat and grime of daily life, pollution also plays a big role when it comes to wrinkles. Mohara explains that free radicals in polluted air touch your skin and trigger a chemical reaction that destroys collagen. If moving to the country for the sake of a wrinkle-free visage is not a viable option, a gentle cleanser twice a day is all you need.
What’s good for your heart is good for your skin
Unless fast food makes up a large portion of your meals every week, you don’t need to make radical changes in your diet to improve the elasticity of your skin. Going for some good ol’ veggies will do wonders for your complexion, but if you want to try more specific nutrients to amp up your skincare routine, vitamins are a great place to start.
“Just keep a healthy low glycemic index diet, in general,” says Gohara. That means staying away from complex sugars and highly processed foods.
She also explains that when it comes to wrinkles, “you are what you eat” doesn’t necessarily apply.
“Eating tons of vitamin C is not going to reduce your wrinkles. It’s just not going to do it. It doesn’t matter how many oranges you eat,” she says of one of the most popular components for skincare routines.
Stop making faces
If an elder has ever told you to stop grimacing and making faces because one day you’ll be stuck with it, they were right. Well, sort of.
Facial expressions like showing your disgust when your dog makes a particularly smelly poop or you receive unsolicited attention on the street will not ruin your beautiful face. But if you find yourself frowning or raising your eyebrows for extended periods of time—especially when reading or working in front of a screen—that can definitely leave marks on your skin.
Whenever you realize you’re doing it, relax your face muscles. If you feel the need to relieve tension, try finding another outlet, like a stress ball or a nice walk.
Try with a little help from your friends
Listen, wrinkles are serious business and if you’re aiming to go against Father Time on this one, you’d better bring out the big guns.
Seriously, no knives. This is a gunfight Even so, starting early, water, sunblock, and good intentions won’t cut it. Arm yourself with retinoids.
Also known as retinol, this ingredient is derived from vitamin A, and it’s considered a key component in any anti-aging strategy. This compound has several functions, including fighting free radicals that may be slowing down your collagen production, boosting the production of new collagen, and helping you safely store the collagen you already have.
[Related: Five retinol products for baby-smooth skin]
However, retinol is a strong ingredient that may irritate sensitive skin, so it’s not just a matter of buying an over-the-counter cream and slathering it all over your face every day. Retinoids are better when used under the supervision of a dermatologist, who will be able to prescribe a formulation that better suits your skin.
Seeing a professional will also help you avoid any unwanted effects, like dryness and higher photosensitivity (which is why it’s better to use retinoids at night). Gohara suggests starting small—a quarter of a pea-sized dollop for every quadrant of your face. Doing that once a week and gradually increasing frequency will make sure your skin doesn’t get irritated. Finish by moisturizing after each application.
Vitamin C serums are other allies in this battle, and skinfluencers have been raging about them for a good reason. You can find this ingredient in the inner and outer layers of your skin, and it’s crucial for the production of—you guessed it—collagen. It also helps heal wounds and stimulates the production of elastin, a protein that, as its name suggests, helps keep your skin elastic.
You’ll also want to incorporate vitamin E into your daily skincare routine. This ingredient is a great ally against photodamage because it literally absorbs UV-B rays and prevents them from destroying the collagen in your skin.
Gohara also recommends hyaluronic acid, which can also be found on our skin. This compound helps retain moisture and gives the skin a plump look that will make wrinkles and micro-lines less apparent.
Combining all these tips can make a real difference in your fight against aging. You can also try other strategies, like sleeping on your back (so you don’t have your face smushed for eight hours each night) and switching to silk pillowcases (which are gentler on your skin and don’t drag it when you move).
Just keep in mind that it’s OK to age and that wrinkles are a part of life. The race against time and the fight for eternal youth is a lost battle, so just take care of yourself and do what feels right for you.