Wrinkles are a sign of aging. While there's no wishing them away, it's safer to settle for home remedies rather than topical treatments and cosmetic procedures that could have harmful side effects

Remember the princess who wouldn't laugh? The king announced she would marry the man who made her grin. Marry she did, but not a comic. She smiled her “yes” to the man who gave her a wrinkle-stopping cream.

We can romanticise wrinkles: Crow's feet near the eyes, eh? You must laugh a lot. Furrows between the eyebrows? Thinker, right? Wrinkles around the mouth? We're social people, buddy, we talk. Lines all over the face make us outdoorsy, adventurous. We try our best to cope with the shock the mirror gives, but here is the bottom line: “Read wrinkles as ‘ageing of skin',” says plastic surgeon Dr. Anand.

“Wrinkles are creases and furrows of the skin that appear as we get older,” he says. “The basic reason is damage of the surface epidermis and the degradation of collagen (mortar) and elastin fibres (steel mesh) in the dermis (concrete wall) due to advancing age and environmental damage.” Wrinkles could be fine or coarse. Skin ages all over the body, but more where there is sun exposure.

Who gets them?

“The primary reason for wrinkles is exposure to sunlight,” explains Dr. Anand. Darker races (Indians, Africans) have fewer wrinkles (lucky!) than light-skinned people as melanin (pigment) acts as a sun protector. Outdoor workers and sportspersons get more wrinkled. Genetic factors influence how fast your skin will age, and unhealthy habits accelerate the damage.

“Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UV-A and UV-B,” is Dr. Anand's advice. “Cover exposed areas when in the sun or use a hat. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. They contain Vitamin C and antioxidants that prevent damage to skin.” But wrinkles surface, eventually.

Treatment options

There are plenty of remedies, says Dr. Anand, suggesting topical retinoid/retinal creams (vitamin A), alpha-hydroxy acids (“fruit acids”) and antioxidant preparations containing vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene. No change? Then go in for cosmetic procedures. Glycolic acid peels can make a slight difference to the intensity of fine wrinkles; ingredients such as salicylic acid and trichloroacetic acid can give you deeper peels; microdermabrasion will sandblast the skin with a machine containing silica or aluminum crystals; surgical rejuvenation of the skin can help; and dermabrasion abrades the skin with a high-speed rotary machine allowing fresh skin to form. “Dermabrasion can bring about excellent improvement but also produces significant side effects, including scarring and permanent changes to the colour of the skin,” he warns.

His list of procedures also includes laser resurfacing to stimulate natural collagen production which fills up pores and tightens the skin and wrinkles, fractional resurfacing with pixellated lasers where healing is faster, non-ablative laser resurfacing that stimulates collagen synthesis without damaging the epidermis, and heat-and-radiofrequency treatment. Still no help? Have surgical facelifts, brow lifts, and similar operations. “It's very helpful for select patients,” the surgeon says. There is, of course, Botox which is the injection (repeated every few months) of botulinum toxin to paralyse muscles that produce frown lines on the forehead, and other wrinkles. “There are “fillers” “injected into the skin to increase volume and flatten wrinkles and folds.”

Home remedies

Wonderful, but anti-ageing creams and treatments come at an exorbitant price. Why not try simple everyday practices that can prevent (reduce wrinkles and make you look less weather-beaten? Here's what some beauticians recommend.

Drink cocoa. Dietary flavonoids epicatechin and catechin found in cocoa keep blood vessels elastic, increasing the nourishing flow to both skin and internal organs. A German study (published in Journal of Nutrition) found that after three months, women who drank an epicatechin-rich cocoa-drink daily not only had smoother skin, but were more resistant to sun damage.

Get enough sleep. It spurs the release of a “youth hormone” leading to thicker, healthier skin and fewer lines. Sleep on your back. Snoozing on your side or belly etches “sleep lines” that eventually become permanent. Sleeping on your back may even reverse the problem.

Avoid squinting, wear sun glasses outdoors. Get your reading glasses as soon as you need them to stop around-the-nose bunny lines and forehead furrows. A relaxed face prevents grooves.

Practise yoga to calm nerves.

Massage away the lines. A five-minute lymph-node massage drains puffiness.

Have regular face masks to stretch the skin.

Nothing works? Accept a lined face. Consider them as signs of a life well lived.

THE LATEST LINES

* What is good for your heart is good for the skin. Eat healthy.

* Cold water fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which nourish the skin and keep it smooth, glowing and youthful.

* Walnuts and isoflavone-rich soy products increase collagen and reduce wrinkles.

* Smoking cuts production of elastin and collagen by up to 40 percent, leading to a “smoker's face” of premature fine lines.

* A Yale School of Medicine study has found a clear connection between wrinkles and poor bone density. The worse the wrinkles, the lesser the bone density, it says.

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