As a matter of fact, the wrinkle not only alters the smoothness of the surface, it also betrays the age of the person; this is unacceptable in a world where appearing young is mandatory.
The personal care industry has developed a plethora of products aimed at fighting wrinkles, and yet the threat remains. Often, when a problem takes long to be solved, it is because the cause of the problem is only partially understood. So, let us ask again: what is a wrinkle?
It is quite remarkable that there are no wrinkles on “horizontal” parts of our body and that the wrinkles only are formed on the “vertical” parts of the body. Indeed, there are no wrinkles on the scalp and there are no wrinkles on the shoulders; wrinkles accumulate on the forehead, around the eyes, on the cheeks and around the lips.
A Neuro-Muscular Issue
In a moment of creative enthusiasm, somebody once suggested that the wrinkle is a wound. That assessment could not be further from reality. In a wound, skin cells multiply quickly and synthetize collagens, elastic fibers and ground substance to fill the gap. In a wrinkle, all of these activities are absent and there is no bleeding. For sure, it can be said that a wrinkle is a wound in someone’s beauty but, truth be told, wrinkles and wounds do not have anything in common.
Whereas a wrinkle is a groove in a healthy, intact skin, a wound is a bleeding opening. In a wound, collagen is produced at an accelerated rate and in order to quickly fill the gap, skin cells produce fibers and ground substance and scar tissue is formed, which is disorganized and not elastic. So, if to reduce wrinkles one were to use wound healing factors or other accelerators of the rate of synthesis of collagens, one might indeed generate a lot of scar-like tissue and make things worse.
The fact is, the damage in the skin is an ancillary cause in the onset of the wrinkle: the wrinkle is a neuro-muscular problem!
Surgeons, doctors and dermatologists all know that patients under general anesthesia do not have wrinkles and that hemiplegic patients do not have wrinkles on the paralyzed portion of their faces. And we all know that an injection of the neuro-muscular toxin Botox induces the removal of wrinkles for several weeks. A wrinkle is a neuro-muscular problem, which manifests itself as the appearance of grooves on the face. These grooves correspond to the sites where the skin is attached to the muscles via the nervous tissue.
With time and age, the skin’s network of elastic fibers gets disorganized. The skin gets thinner because of the loss of the water-retaining capability of the dermis. Aged skin is less resilient, less elastic, less firm and more deformable. Subjected to the stretch effect of the gravitational force, the surface of aged skin becomes larger. Aged skin does therefore “hang down” from the sites where it is attached to the muscles and grooves will appear on its surface. This is how we understand wrinkles are formed.1,2
What scientific frame should be adopted to design interventions to fight wrinkles? It is apparent that considering the wrinkle as the consequence of a purely dermal damage is an incomplete approach to the problem. Drawing a section of the dermis as if it were resting on a horizontal plane and representing the wrinkle as a concavity in the line separating the inside of the skin from the outside is not only wrong but also misleading. Such a schematic drawing could allow one to infer the existence of a “bottom” of the wrinkle and indeed some authors propose to eliminate wrinkles by filling the wrinkle from the bottom...quite difficult task to perform because a wrinkle does not have a bottom!
Filling a Need
It has been reported in the past that topically treating postmenopausal skin with estrogen provoked the thickening of the dermis and the appearance of wrinkles was reduced.3 This is to be expected because estrogen promotes water retention. This result allowed one to understand that increasing the thickness of the dermis can be beneficial to the battle against wrinkles, and some dermatologists do actually inject “fillers” into the dermis. By doing so they are able to reduce the wrinkle’s visibility. It has been later understood that the presence of these “fillers” in the dermis is perceived by resident dermal fibroblasts as a “gap” in the tissue, and as a consequence, they produce new collagens, the dermis becomes more resilient and the skin “hangs down” from the sites where the cutaneous tissue is attached to the muscular system, in a less conspicuous manner.
When one wants to avoid invasive treatments and steer clear from using prescription drugs, one can approach the wrinkle problem by topical application of formulas that offer an immediate, albeit transient, solution—also called the “Cinderella Effect” because of its short duration. Such an effect can be obtained, for instance, by boosting the forces pulling epidermal keratinocytes toward one another, or by applying film formers with a tightening effect together with the appropriate additives to prolong this effect. Cosmetic chemists have a panoply of ingredients and a wealth of formulating experience that can be called upon to find the best solutions to the wrinkle problem.
- Piérard GE, Lapière CM. (1989) The microanatomical basis of facial frown lines. Arch Dermatol. 125:1090-1092.
- Piérard GE, Uhoda I, Piérard-Franchimont C. (2003) From skin microrelief to wrinkles. An area ripe for investigation. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2:21-28.
- Brincat M, Moniz CJ, Studd JW, Darby A, Magos A, Emburey G, Versi E. (1985) Long-term effects of the menopause and sex hormones on skin thickness. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 92 : 256-259.
Paolo Giacomoni, PhD
Insight Analysis Consulting
Paolo Giacomoni acts as an independent consultant to the skin care industry. He served as executive director of research at Estée Lauder and was head of the department of biology with L’Oréal. He has built a record of achievements through research on DNA damage and metabolic impairment induced by UV radiation as well as on the positive effects of vitamins and antioxidants. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and has more than 20 patents.