Does Smiling Cause Wrinkles?

Facial Wrinkles

Story at-a-glance -

  • When you make a facial expression, it causes movement in underlying facial muscles, which will form a groove perpendicular to the movement
  • Your unique pattern of facial expression lines predicts your pattern of future persistent wrinkles
  • The best way to minimize wrinkles is by leading a healthy lifestyle, including eating vegetables, exercising, and protecting your facial skin from excess sun exposure

By Dr. Mercola

If you develop deep smile lines in old age, consider yourself lucky. It’s a visible sign that you’ve been blessed with a life full of smiles. Of course, not only smiles will be revealed.

Any time you make a facial expression, whether that be a smile, a frown, or a scowl, it causes movement in underlying facial muscles, which will form a groove perpendicular to the movement.

In the case of smiles, two grooves known as the nasolabial folds form. These are the two skin folds that run down from your nose to the corners of your mouth. When you’re young, your skin’s elasticity helps it bounce back so that the folds disappear when you stop smiling.

But as you get older and your skin begins to change – due to less elasticity, less fat, muscle atrophy and other factors – the folds no longer fade away. In fact, if you don’t yet have facial wrinkles you can probably predict where they’re going to turn up just by making a few expressions in the mirror.

Your unique pattern of expression lines will likely predict your pattern of future persistent wrinkles.1 There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about wrinkles, although one study did find that people have a harder time reading emotions when they’re displayed on a wrinkled face.

The ramifications of this could mean that the elderly might be misread socially or have a harder time achieving rapport in everyday interactions.2  Ultimately, however, wrinkles are more of a cosmetic problem, albeit one that could cause you some psychological stress.

While some people view wrinkles as distinguished, more than half of those surveyed by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery said they are bothered by wrinkles on their face.3

Should You Stop Smiling to Prevent Wrinkles?

You may have heard certain celebrities state that they try not to smile too often because smiling causes wrinkles. But suppressing a smile also means suppressing positive emotions that enhance your well-being. Thinking positive thoughts and then smiling as a result can make you happier.4

When you smile at others, they’re also more likely to smile back in return, creating an ongoing feedback loop that may lead to more positivity in your life and the lives of others.

In order for this to work for wrinkle prevention, you’d have to suppress not only smiles but virtually every facial expression, which would leave you looking emotionless and, likely, unapproachable. It might even affect your ability to feel emotions, if studies on Botox injections are accurate.

Botox injections paralyze the underlying muscles that cause facial wrinkles and in so doing limit your ability to make facial expressions. The evidence is fairly compelling that it would be prudent to avoid this strategy, as it is only a temporary fix and will likely worsen the problem long term.

Research involving people who received Botox injections revealed they had less emotional response to video clips and did not feel their emotions as deeply as people who had received a different cosmetic procedure (one that does not paralyze muscles).5

One of the study’s researchers noted:6 “For at least some emotions, if you take away some part of the facial expression, you take away some of the emotional experience.”

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What You Eat Influences Your Skin Health

If you’re interested in preventing wrinkles, pay attention to your diet. One of the most profoundly effective ways to create the most attractive glow for your skin is by consuming vegetables and fruits that are high in carotenoids.

Carotenoids give red, orange, and yellow fruits their color, and also occur in green vegetables. Studies have shown that eating foods with these deeply colored pigments can make your face actually look healthier than being tanned.7 One of the most potent carotenoids is astaxanthin.

The more red and yellow tones found in your skin, the more attractive the people were found to be. The redder tones are caused when people are flushed with blood, particularly if the blood has lots of oxygen in it.

Researchers found that, given the choice between skin color caused by suntan and skin color caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin color, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin color, you are better off eating a healthy diet.

In order to have clear, healthy skin, you need to make sure your body is relatively free of toxins as well, so cleansing your body of dangerous substances while putting in the finest nutrients is essential. The organs responsible for providing you with beautiful skin include your liver, kidneys, adrenals, thyroid, and your large and small intestines.

  • Your liver and kidneys are the two organs that filter out impurities on an ongoing basis. If your diet is less than ideal, these two organs can easily become overtaxed, which can lead to breakouts and other skin problems.
  • Your adrenals make many essential hormones, such as pregnenolone, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Hormonal imbalances can also result in problematic skin conditions, so adrenal function is important as well.
  • A well-nourished, energetic thyroid also provides hormones and works closely with your adrenals to create energy. Dry, flakey, sluggish skin can be evidence of a weak thyroid.
  • Your small and large intestines provide nutrients to all your organs and remove waste products from your body. When waste meant for elimination remains in your intestines your skin becomes thick, oily, and blemished. Pure, flawless skin is typically a reflection of clean intestines.

Four Dietary Tips to a Healthier Complexion

Eating a healthy diet as described in my nutrition plan, which focuses on whole, bioavailable organic foods, is your number one strategy for helping your body detox naturally while supplying the necessary nutrients your skin needs to thrive. That said, some foods are particularly effective at promoting beautiful, clear skin, including:

  • Animal-based omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats help to normalize skin lipids and prevent dehydration in the cells. This keeps skin cells strong and full of moisture, which can help to decrease the appearance of fine lines.
  • Fatty acid deficiency can manifest in a variety of ways, but skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels are common. Plus, omega-3 fats may have an anti-inflammatory effect that can help to calm irritated skin, giving you a clear, smooth complexion. Sardines and anchovies are excellent sources of animal-based omega-3s, as is krill oil.

  • Vegetables: Ideally fresh, organic and locally grown. Fresh vegetable juice is also wonderful for your skin. Also consider astaxanthin as a supplement as it is one of the most potent carotenoids.
  • Fermented foods are even better as they can start with the same vegetables but are converted by bacteria to superfoods, which help promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria and aid in digestion.  
  • Signals from these gut microorganisms are sent throughout your body—they even interact with organisms in your skin. Researchers are now looking into how these interactions can help with a wide variety of skin conditions, including dryness and poor collagen production.

  • Avoid Sugars, Fructose and Grains: This is probably the single most important step you can take to improve your skin health. If you eliminate all sugars, fructose and grains from your diet for a few weeks there is a major likelihood you will notice rapid improvement in your complexion.

Get Regular Sunshine, but Do Shield Your Face

Regular sun exposure (without sunscreen) is essential to good health. Contrary to what you may have heard, the sun can actually be protective of your skin and may reduce your risk of cancer (including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer) by increasing your vitamin D levels. However, shielding your face from the sun is a habit I recommend. This will help keep it looking youthful longer, as UVA rays do tend to cause wrinkling and other skin damage.

Your face, which is the most important cosmetic component of your body, is a relatively small surface area, so shielding it while exposing large portions of your body instead is not going to make a big difference in terms of vitamin D production. This is why most cultures have traditionally worn a hat when in the sun.  

I personally use a cap that puts a shade around my eyes and my nose. I do that just to protect my skin, because the skin is very thin on your face and highly sensitive to the photoaging effects of UVA. I rarely ever use sunscreen and virtually never get sunburnt. But I also take astaxanthin regularly, which serves as an internal sunscreen.

As previously mentioned, astaxanthin is a carotenoid. It is produced from marine algae in response to exposure to UV light. This is the way the algae protects itself, so it makes perfect sense that this deeply pigmented substance would have the capacity to "shield" you when it is taken in large enough quantities for a long enough time to saturate your body's tissues. Typically, this takes several weeks of daily supplementation. Astaxanthin—a potent antioxidant—can also be used topically and a number of topical sunscreen products contain it. Some sunscreens are also starting to use astaxanthin as an ingredient to protect your skin from damage.

What Else Works for Reducing and Preventing Wrinkles?

While I don’t recommend avoiding facial expressions tied to emotions, consciously relaxing your facial muscles if you’re feeling tense can help to keep wrinkles at bay. Psychological acupressure techniques like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be helpful for this. Similarly, sleeping on your face may cause wrinkles to appear over time because of the continuous pressure and pulling of your facial skin. Try sleeping on your back or varying your sleeping positions so that you don’t create permanent creases in your skin. In addition:

  • Exercise, especially high-intensity interval exercise. This leads to a natural increase in your body’s production of human growth hormone (HGH). HGH plays an integral role in maintaining youthfulness and strength, and there is some evidence that it also has effects on epidermal cells, dermal structures and wound healing, which means it plays a role in skin health as well.8
  • Drink more water. When the outermost layer of the epidermis (your skin’s outer layer) lacks water, your skin becomes rough and dry. While it’s not entirely clear whether drinking more water can counteract dry skin, it stands to reason that a hydrated body is conducive to hydrated skin. You should drink enough water so that your urine is a very pale yellow.
  • Use coconut oil. When absorbed into your skin and connective tissues, coconut oil helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to keep your connective tissues strong and supple. It also helps exfoliate the outer layer of dead skin cells, making your skin smoother. You’d also be wise to start eating coconut oil as well, because it may help protect your skin from the aging effects of free radicals (while offering numerous other health benefits as well).
  • For topical use, you can use coconut oil by itself or add your favorite essential oil. (Make sure you're using a high-quality essential oil that is safe for topical application.) You can even try whipping the coconut oil with an electric mixer to produce a fluffy moisturizer that stays soft and spreadable even in cooler temperatures.9