Face Care

Exercise, Sleep Masks & Other Surprising Things That Can Lead to Wrinkles

womans face wearing sleep mask what causes wrinkles

While wrinkles can seem like they appear overnight — shoutout to anyone who’s looked in the mirror and done a double-take at their forehead lines! — they’re actually years in the making. And while sun damage and repetitive facial expressions are two major contributors, there are other far more sneaky culprits. What causes wrinkles? Exercise, sleep masks, and even seasonal allergies are among the lesser-known culprits. We asked derms to share what surprising things or habits are leading to crow’s feet and other lines.

Squinting, Inside & Outside

Why it Happens: Squinting your eyes — whether to read a screen better or protect your eyes against bright sunlight — is a major cause of lines. “There is a circular muscle around each eye,” explains Chris Adigun, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “When you squint, it is constricting that muscle, and crinkling up the delicate skin around the eye.” Over time, when those crinkles relax, they leave lines behind — a.k.a. crow’s feet.

What to Do About It: Perhaps obviously, minimizing squinting can help prevent crows’ feet. If you’re indoors and dealing with a screen, “reduce eye strain by increasing text size, consider changing the light settings for day and night, and glance away from screens at least every 20 minutes,” says R. Sonia Batra, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, California, and co-host of The DoctorsTM.

Also, think beyond indoor activities: “If you are going to be walking or running in any kind of bright area — even if it’s cloudy — then wear sunglasses to minimize constriction of these muscles,” Dr. Adigun says. “Neurotoxin [injectable wrinkle reducer] injections in these muscles [can be] very effective at minimizing the muscle constriction.” In doing so, they smooth the moderate to severe lines that all too often result in crow’s feet.

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. 

Wearing a Sleep Mask

Why it happens: You may notice a trend in what causes wrinkles — and if you guessed that it’s things near or around your eyes, you’d be right. The delicate skin there makes this area a wrinkle free-for-all, even for seemingly innocuous things like eye masks. “Traumatizing eyelid skin with irritating sleep masks causes inflammation,” says Dr. Batra. “That leads to collagen breakdown, and eventually wrinkles.”

What to do about it: If you wear a sleep mask to bed, make sure it’s loose, so as not to pull or stretch the skin. And if you’re in the market for a new one, “choose a material such as silk, since it will cause less friction and is less allergenic than some synthetic materials,” says Dr. Batra. Also, toss it in the laundry every week, because the buildup of eye cream can attract dirt and bacteria, which only exacerbates any inflammation in the area. To help smooth and firm this skin, try Kiehl’s® Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing & Dark Circle-Diminishing Vitamin C Eye Serum ($50), which pairs vitamin C (a known collagen booster) with hydrating hyaluronic acid and firming peptides.

The Onset of Seasonal Allergies

Why it happens: Similar to touching your face, rubbing the eyes can be an impossible habit to break. “We often don’t think about actions that cause repeated rubbing and pulling of the skin in this area that, in the long term, can accelerate signs of aging,” says Dr. Batra. And, once allergy season rolls around, your eyes might feel dry or itchy. Resist the temptation to rub, because “not only can this contribute to wrinkles, but shearing small blood vessels can make the area look bruised and dark,” Dr. Batra explains. It’s a double whammy.

What to do about it: Lubricating eye drops can help eyes feel more comfortable — although if your allergy symptoms are severe, you might want to visit your doctor to consider other options, says Dr. Batra. As for darkness under the eyes, Rodin® Luxury Illuminating Eye CreamTM ($70) brightens dark, purple-hued undereyes and smooths skin with a combination of vitamins A, C, and E and soothing botanical extracts.

Your Exercise Habits

Why it happens: If you’ve ever heard the term “runner’s face,” you may already know that it’s often used to describe the wrinkles and loss in volume due to the up-and-down motion of running, which supposedly breaks down collagen. That’s not actually what happens, though. Instead, “signs of aging from outdoor exercise are more likely due to ultraviolet damage,” explains Dr. Adigun. “Without adequate sunscreen and protective clothing, ultraviolet damage contributes to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, and therefore to wrinkle formation.” What could also lead to lax or sagging skin? Significant weight loss. 

What to do about it: Exercise itself is A-OK — in fact, “exercise improves blood flow and oxygenation to the skin, which helps to maintain the skin scaffolding,” says Dr. Adigun. On top of that, slather a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. She’s a fan of zinc oxide- or titanium dioxide-based mineral sunscreen. We love Elta MD® UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 ($29); it feels weightless. Also, consider investing in sun-protective clothing and hats with UPF (the fabric version of SPF), and opt to head outside in either the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the peak UV hours midday.

Your Athleisure Outfits

Why it happens: While a sports bra may be more comfortable on an out-of-office day, it could lead to vertical wrinkling of the chest skin, says Dr. Adigun. “The tendency of the delicate chest skin to develop vertical chest lines is multifactorial, including thinned skin from sun damage and the aging process,” she explains. “When the skin has thinned and lost its elasticity, it is less likely to ‘bounce back’ after being squeezed like an accordion.” Your sports bra isn’t only to blame, though — being a side sleeper could also be a cause of wrinkles there.

What to do about it: Sun protection can go a long way in terms of prevention. If the damage is already done, “the best way to [help] improve these lines [may be] by addressing skin quality with collagen-building laser treatments,” says Adigun. A series of three or four fractional laser treatments is one of a few in-office treatments that can improve the appearance of wrinkles on your chest.

Editor's Note

As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.

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