Throw yourself a smile looking into the mirror or while taking a selfie and you very well may see crow’s feet — those crinkled, outstretched lines that form around your eyes — looking right back at you. They initially tend to present as faint, wrinkles that come and go with small facial movements (like smiling). Over time, though, crow’s feet can worsen, becoming static fixtures even when your face is at rest.
“They develop because the constant movement of the muscles around the eye creates creases in the skin that eventually become permanent,” notes Millicent Rovelo, MD, a double board-certified plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills. She also notes that because the skin in this area is so thin, it’s more likely to deteriorate faster than other areas. “Both age-related changes and UV exposure break down the skin’s structural support elements,” Dr. Rovelo adds.
Though crow’s feet are an eventual fact of life, there are ways to help make crow’s feet look better and keep crow’s feet from getting worse. Keep reading to learn how to stop exacerbating existing crow’s feet and soften their appearance.
Never Leave the House Without SPF
Given that sun exposure is one of the greatest contributing factors to the breakdown of your skin’s collagen — which, yes, can cause the formation of crow’s feet — it makes sense that limiting exposure is key. In fact, any dermatologist will tell you that the best thing you can do for your skin is to apply an SPF of 30+ every single day — rain or shine, indoors or outdoors.
“Even if you don’t plan to be outside or in direct sunlight, the sun’s radiation can penetrate through clouds and windows, and this can significantly damage skin over time,”says Jeanette M. Black, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Care and Laser Physicianssm of Beverly Hills. While re-application may not seem incredibly practical, it is necessary for effective sun defense. “Try reapplying with makeup products and powders that contain SPF in the formulation,” suggests Dr. Black.
Wear Prescription Glasses or Contacts (If Necessary)
We mentioned above that repeated facial movements ultimately lead to the formation of permanent crow’s feet. While you can’t really stop yourself from smiling, laughing, or making facial expressions (nor should you!), you can reduce the repetitive movement of squinting, which can make crow’s feet worse. One common reason for squinting is not being able to see clearly.
“If you need glasses or contacts and are not wearing them, then you're chronically squinting, and this contributes to early development of these lines,” says Dr. Rovelo. The moral of the story: have your eyes checked annually and wear whatever’s appropriate.
Always Wear Sunglasses & Hats
The same crow’s feet prevention principle applies to squinting as a result of being in the sun. “If you're not wearing sunglasses, then you're likely to be consistently squinting at the sun,” says Dr. Rovelo. “Additionally, if the sunglasses are large enough, they can provide protection against UV exposure and the effects of photoaging.”
Though tiny sunglasses may be trendy right now, opt for oversized frames instead, which will cover the entire eye area to protect it against sun damage. Sun hats, visors, and baseball caps can also provide shade and reduce UV exposure and squinting. Read our editor’s review of the Bluestone® Sunshield, which blocks the sun’s rays on the entire face, neck, and some of the chest (and is also sure to garner you some compliments).
Invest in a Solid Skincare Routine
Skin is our largest organ, and in the same way we exercise and eat well to take care of our heart, we ought to give our skin some TLC. In addition to wearing sunscreen daily, investing our time (and yes, some cash) into a consistent skincare regimen allows our skin to remain healthy.
Your routine should consist of cleansing to remove dirt, oil, and any beauty products you wore that day, followed by a toner to help rebalance your skin. From there, you can incorporate mild acids to help exfoliate, peptides to repair damage and boost collagen production, antioxidants to protect against free radical damage, and retinoids to foster collagen and elastin production (more on that in the next section).
[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]
Finish with a moisturizer — especially one that contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides. This will hydrate and nourish the skin while also plumping to temporarily reduce the appearance of fine lines. We’re fond of IT Cosmetics® Confidence in a Cream® ($48), which contains both powerful ingredients plus rich shea butter and vitamin E.
Get Religious About Retinoids
Speaking of retinoids, they’re probably the number two most-recommended ingredient by dermatologists (after sunscreen, of course). “They're a great option for both preventing and treating signs of aging in the face,” explains Dr. Rovelo. “They both prevent and reverse the signs of aging, including the loss of collagen and thinning of the skin.”
They can and should be used around your eyes, but Dr. Rovelo notes you should do so with care. Since the skin is so thin there, it’s especially reactive to retinoids. It’s best to use a cream designed for the sensitive, thin eye area. We’re fans of the Kate Somerville® + Retinol Firming Eye Cream ($85), which also contains bakuchiol, a plant-based ingredient which provides benefits similar to retinol, such as helping to smooth fine lines. You can also combine your retinoid with a non-active moisturizer to dilute it, or apply your go-to formula with the skin-saving retinoid sandwich technique.
Consider Injectable Wrinkle Reducers
As you know, crow's feet are caused by the overuse of muscles in the eye area combined with sun exposure and other forms of skin damage.
“While it is theoretically possible to avoid squinting, practically speaking, it is impossible to remember this on an ongoing basis,” says Joel Schlessinger, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon based in Omaha, Nebraska. “That's why injectable neurotoxins are indispensable in treating [moderate to severe] crow's feet.”
Injectable wrinkle reducers work by temporarily decreasing muscle movement to make crow’s feet look better. This not only inhibits the activity behind crow’s feet, but also helps soften the appearance of existing lines. After about a week post-injection, the inhibition of muscle movement will begin to kick in. At this point, you’ll start to notice that it’ll be harder for you to contract the muscles that contribute to crow’s feet. Because of this, the lines in this area will begin to smooth out, with the full results becoming apparent at about the month mark.
[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetics specialists now.]
Try In-Office Lasers or Chemical Peels
“If your crow’s feet have gotten to the point where you have fine lines around your eyes while the muscles are at rest, it can be difficult to eradicate them completely with topicals,” notes Dr. Rovelo. “In this case, ablative laser therapy, which targets the thin skin and fine wrinkles around the eye, may be most effective. You can also consider an in-office TCA peel to resurface the skin around the eyes.”
A combination of in-office treatments is sometimes recommended for deeper, more stubborn crow’s feet. We recommend consulting with a trusted licensed provider in your area to come up with a personalized approach that will help you achieve your aesthetic goals. Chat with our team of trained aesthetic specialists now — they can assist in answering any questions you might have about crow’s feet, and connect you with a licensed provider near you.
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