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What Dermatologists Wish You Knew About Preventing and Treating Wrinkles

Dermatologists spill their most effective—and surprising—secrets. Get smoother, younger looking skin by preventing and treating wrinkles earlier and more effectively.

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Turn off Netflix already

They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing. “A good night’s sleep is essential for the skin to repair itself,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist. Without proper rest, the skin can’t fully rejuvenate itself and will be more prone to wrinkling. A study from Case Western Reserve University found that those who were sleep deprived had skin with an impaired ability to repair itself from external stressors and were more likely to show signs of aging. These daily habits can help you sleep better starting tonight.

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Sleep like a baby—on your back

Yes, it’s important to get enough rest, but people who sleep on their side are at a greater risk of developing wrinkles from “crunching” their face against the pillow, says Dr. Jaliman. Her advice: Sleep on silk, literally—try the Slip Silk Pillowcase; it provides more slip than cotton or nylon. And if you can, try sleeping on your back. (Related: Check out these nighttime habits of people with great skin.)

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There’s a way to mask wrinkles

Contrary to popular belief, dry skin doesn’t cause wrinkles, according to Lisa Airan, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “But wrinkles appear more prominent if your skin is dry,” she says. “Moisturized skin appears more plump and with less wrinkles.” Be sure to slather on moisturizer daily, especially if your skin is dry, to help reduce the appearance of lines. There are some formulas specifically designed to visually fill in wrinkles—try Boots No7 Instant Illusion Wrinkle Filler. Avoid these makeup mistakes that make your skin look dry.

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You can amp up collagen production

If you began exfoliating in your teens to get rid of pesky acne, you’re in luck. According to Neal Schultz, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, exfoliation isn’t just for treating blemishes—it also sends a message to the middle layer of skin to make new collagen. “When you’re 17 and exfoliating, you’re priming your fibroblasts, the skin cells that make collagen, for production,” Dr. Schultz says. “So when you really need collagen in your late 20s and 30s, your skin is already producing it.” Dr. Schultz recommends both physical exfoliation (using a buffer like the Foreo Luna Skincare Brush or a Clarisonic Mia Cleansing Brush) plus chemical exfoliation (using glycolic peels and serums) to help prevent wrinkles. (Related: Follow these other habits of people with beautiful skin for a glow that won’t quit.)

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Shun the sun, seriously

“The sun damage that causes wrinkles is like calculus,” says Dr. Schultz. “It’s made up of an infinite number of tiny little things.” Think of it like this: If you go to work five days a week, and you walk from your apartment to the subway for four minutes, and then the subway to your office for six minutes, that’s 10 minutes of sun exposure twice a day. By the end of the work week, it’s like you’ve laid on the beach for an hour and forty minutes without sunscreen. You even need protection indoors, Dr. Schultz says. “UV rays come through windows, so if you have a window in your office or like to sit by the window and read, you need sunscreen.” Use SPF 30 or higher with broad spectrum protection. Be aware of other sunscreen mistakes you’re probably making.

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Cut the crap

Out of your diet. You already know processed sugar is bad for you, but eating it can make you look older. “Sugar glycates the collagen and stiffens it, causing wrinkles,” Dr. Jaliman says. Even as you avoid sweets you’ll want to stock up on colorful fruits and veggies, as vitamin C is also key for maintaining youthful skin. “If you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you won’t have a high enough intake of antioxidants or vitamin C, which build collagen and affects your skin and hair,” Dr. Jaliman says. “When people don’t eat enough vitamin-rich food, you can see it in their skin. Not only does it cause wrinkles, but it dampens the overall glow.” Try eating these foods for younger-looking skin.

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Knock these bad habits

Drinking through a straw, chewing gum and blowing bubbles, along with smoking (which causes aging for a host of reasons, including decreasing oxygen flow to the skin), will lead to wrinkles developing around the mouth. Another wrinkle-forming habit is squinting, which is why Dr. Schultz advises his patients to wear sunglasses. “If you’re constantly squinting when the sun is out, you’re developing crows feet with every squint,” he says.

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Great skin is not a happy accident

Dermatologists agree: It’s never too early—or too late!—to prevent and treat wrinkles, and it’s a lifelong endeavor. “Don’t wait until you start seeing wrinkles to treat them,” says Dr. Schultz. “Prevention really begins in childhood [with sunscreen].” By the time we reach our 20s, many of us notice fine lines, especially around the eyes, since we blink 10,000 times a day. “If you’re going to care about wrinkles, the earlier you start a good skincare regimen, the better,” Dr. Jaliman adds. That means applying sun protection, exfoliating, moisturizing, and potentially considering a neurotoxin or fillers if necessary. With more mature complexions, there’s still time to reverse damage. “Studies have shown that even people with sun-damaged skin who start using sunscreen look younger five years later,” Dr. Jaliman says. “You can change your habits and make your skin better.” (Related: Whatever you do, don’t fall for these worst skincare tips dermatologists have ever heard.)

close up of a doctor inserting a needle into a woman's crows feetiStock/Topalov Djura

Don’t fear the needle

There are plenty of steps you can take to prevent, treat, and reverse signs of aging on your skin, but most dermatologists agree that neurotoxins like Botox, Dysport, Jeuveau, and Xeomin produce the best results. “The two things that truly prevent wrinkles are sunscreen and Botox,” Dr. Airan says. While many people have mixed feelings about using Botox, Dr. Airan and Dr. Schultz are in favor of getting Botox early and often. “Botox could be appropriate as early as the late teens or in the mid 30s,” Dr. Schultz says, “depending on when you start seeing lines when you raise your forehead or squint.” With skin that looks ageless, you should follow these anti-aging secrets that could add years to your life.

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Medically reviewed by Jessica Wu, MD, on October 27, 2019