One of the few things certain in this life is something nobody desires: wrinkles. Laugh lines around your mouth are an especially cruel twist of fate since they seem to grow deeper based on how happy a person’s been. Smiling and laughing aren’t the only causes, of course, but they are called laugh lines for a reason. In any case, it doesn’t matter how diligent you are about applying your favorite creams, or even if you’ve cut smiling out of your facial expression repertoire altogether. At some point, time steps in, and lines deepen and multiply.
“As we age, we lose fat, muscle, and bone in the face,” explains Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in San Francisco, California. “This lack of underlying structural support leads to skin laxity and [wrinkles, including] laugh lines.” Other contributing factors include genetics, lifestyle habits such as smoking or extended sun exposure, and not wearing SPF. However, once they develop, you don’t have to live with them if you don’t want to. Keep reading to discover five in-office treatments you can try to smooth the appearance of laugh lines.
“One of my favorite treatments to smooth laugh lines is a hyaluronic acid dermal filler,” says Dr. Campbell. Most injectable fillers are made of hyaluronic acid, a carbohydrate that naturally occurs in the body. When a licensed provider injects it into specific areas of the face (including laugh lines), it can help temporarily restore lost volume.
[Editor’s note: Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, it has potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if it’s right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetic specialists now.]
“I also like collagen stimulator fillers, which help restore lost volume while also building the patient’s own collagen,” adds Dr. Campbell. “If we can restore volume and build new collagen to help either ‘puff out’ or remodel the laugh lines, the appearance of them improves.”
Typically, results from injectable fillers are immediately noticeable with improvement over the following two weeks. Fillers last, on average, from six months to two years. Downtime is minimal, if any, with typical side effects consisting of swelling and bruising — so if you need your laugh lines to look smoother for a big event, plan accordingly. To find a licensed provider in your area that administers this treatment, chat with our trained aesthetics specialists now.
Fractional Laser Treatment
Another in-office treatment to smooth laugh lines is fractional laser (which you may have heard by a common brand name, Fraxel®). It gets its name because it causes what’s called “fractional photothermolysis,” or more simply, it resurfaces the skin.
“Fraxel 1550 is my favorite,” shares Dr. Campbell. “It heats the skin and creates tiny imperfections in the skin which are then healed over the subsequent two to six months, which creates new collagen.” She recommends a series of two to four sessions spaced four to six weeks apart to improve the appearance of laugh lines. As your skin heals, you can expect some redness and scaliness (which tends to last about a week after each treatment). You should also be careful with how you treat your skin during this window of recovery, avoiding powerful active ingredients and being diligent with SPF. Discover more post-Fraxel skin tips here.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
Think of PRP as a booster, or an add-on, versus an isolated treatment option for smoothing laugh lines. It essentially uses a patient's own platelets to stimulate collagen by acting as messengers telling the patient's own body to increase production.
“It can be injected on its own, or applied post-Fraxel,” explains Dr. Campbell. PRP is also commonly paired with microneedling, because it’s loaded with growth factors that help ramp up cell turnover. “PRP also helps with healing, since the PRP sends messages to the body to heal itself.”
Microneedling is similar to fractional laser treatment in the sense that it creates tiny imperfections in the skin, which then need to be healed by fibroblasts that ramp up collagen production. However, it does so via needles, which puncture the skin. These controlled micro-injuries then heal, creating firmer, smoother-looking skin in their wake.
Dr. Campbell says that, in her experience, lasering tends to be more effective for her patients compared to microneedling. However, if you have a deeper complexion, fractional laser treatments could potentially lead to hyperpigmentation, or discoloration of the skin. For this reason, microneedling is a more reliable choice for skin of color, but your provider can help determine which approach is best for you and your complexion.
While many swear by retinoids as a preventative measure, there’s also scientific proof that prescription retinoids can help treat and correct the look of mild wrinkles, including laugh lines. That said, Dr. Campbell notes that retinoids — including prescription retinoic acid and over-the-counter retinol — should be considered more supplemental in your quest to smoothing laugh lines.
“Retinoids stimulate collagen slowly over time and can improve the appearance of laugh lines, but in the short term, the results will be lackluster,” she warns. “I always add retinoids to all of my patient's skincare routines, but this is for the long game.” Dr. Campbell adds that it takes years to see the wrinkle-fighting results of retinoids, so if your timeline is a little more urgent, don’t rely too heavily on this ingredient. “The more immediate effect is even skin tone, glowing skin and decreased acne breakouts,” she notes.
[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.]
Intensive Chemical Peels
Your at-home regimen may already consist of a mild chemical peel (anything with an alpha-hydroxy acid is a perfect example). However, your dermatologist has access to much stronger chemical peels that can be administered in-office to treat laugh lines.
“TCA, or trichloroacetic acid, removes the top layer of the skin and superficial to mid-dermis, depending on the strength of the peel,” explains Dr. Campbell. “Much like microneedling or Fraxel, this damaged skin needs to be healed, and therefore, new collagen and elastin in made by the body, which tightens the skin and helps with the appearance of these laugh lines.”
Keep in mind that a peel will not necessarily deliver dramatic results, as the peel doesn’t go deep into the skin, but it’s still an effective option, especially for lighter skin types. (Learn more about how to find the right peel for deeper complexions here.) However, if you have no time for downtime, you may want to seek out another treatment, or just wait for a time that your schedule allows for a peel. Downtime for chemical peels can be upward of two weeks, consisting of lots of redness, peeling skin, a feeling of tightness, and major sun sensitivity — so save your appointment for well after summer.
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment, medication, or supplement.]