October 4, 2022

woman with hand on head

Over the years I’ve come to terms with the fact that wrinkles are inevitable. True, I can slather my face with a lineup of anti-aging lotions and potions, holding onto the hope they’ll help—but truth be told, it’s not a matter of if my skin will form wrinkles, it’s a matter of when. What happens, though, when wrinkles sprout because of stress? Stress, too, is mostly unavoidable. But there are some things you can do to help. To get some answers, I spoke with two experts, nurse practitioner Lori Friedman and stress expert Dr. Eric First, to find out what stress wrinkles really are and how I can prevent them. What I discovered, below.

What Are Stress Wrinkles?

It makes sense, really. When we’re stressed, we may not get adequate sleep, we likely don’t exercise as often as we should, and our diet may suffer. All of those factors may contribute to negative effects not just in our health, but on our skin. “Stress wrinkles are thought to occur as a result of chronic stress—typically psychological stress—and environmental stressors (toxins, pollutants, sun exposure),” says First. “The facial region is typically where they are more common.” Both First and Friedman note that stress wrinkles are more prone to pop up in the forehead area and in between the eyebrows (also known as “worry-lines”).

Why Do We Get Stress Wrinkles?

Stress might stem from work, relationships, finances, and even our physical environment. But, what’s the actual science behind it all? According to Friedman, the short answer can be summed up into one word: telomeres. “Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes—think of it like the plastic covering at the end of a shoelace,” says Friedman. “When the telomeres shorten in length to a certain point, they can no longer replicate, and this will lead to the signs of aging.” She goes on to note that individuals who suffer from mental disorders, depression, anxiety, or trauma may have shorter telomeres compared with individuals who don’t. Research has found that shorter telomeres are linked to psychological stress—thus, potentially, making an individual more susceptible to various signs of aging.

Stress-Related Wrinkles vs. Age-Related Wrinkles

Wrinkles caused by aging occur due to the decrease in collagen and elastin. According to Friedman, in our twenties we begin to produce less collagen. And although we can’t stop aging completely, we can help slow it down by making lifestyle adjustments (i.e. wearing SPF and adhering to a healthy skin regimen). Stress, however, may lead to premature signs of aging such as wrinkles, pigmentation, and under eye circles. “If you are in your thirties or older and under chronic psychological stress, you may see the appearance of both age-related and stress related wrinkles more, versus wrinkles just from aging alone,” says First.

How to Prevent Stress Wrinkles

Avoiding stress is easier said than done. Here are some expert tips for easing up the process.

  • Create a routine: Friedman recommends implementing a stress-relief routine in your daily life—this could mean exercising, meditating, or journaling.
  • Stay hydrated: “When you are under chronic stress, it’s easy to forget to stay hydrated, and this can compound the problem,” says First. “Moisturize the skin externally and internally by drinking enough water.”
  • Modify your lifestyle: Friedman notes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle overall—eating a well-rounded diet, limiting alcohol intake, avoiding smoking, and implementing breathing techniques often.
  • Sleep well: While this may seem like a given, First recommends aiming for eight hours of sleep, as this is an important time when the body repairs damage to the skin.
  • Wear SPF: Both First and Friedman stress the importance of wearing sunscreen. “Use a sunscreen daily that has an SPF of at least 30 (or products containing sunscreen) especially in the facial areas,” says First. “And yes, even in the winter months!”
  • Stimulate collagen: “Treatments to stimulate collagen can help prevent as well as soften existing fine lines,” says Friedman. “These treatments include microneedling (with PRP for an extra bonus), chemical peels, and lasers such as Laser Genesis.”

Products for Stress Wrinkles

From vitamin C to retinol, there are a fair amount of ingredients used in skincare products that are meant to help combat or soften stress-induced wrinkles.

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Pore Exfoliating Treatment
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Pore Exfoliating Treatment $98.00

Both First and Friedman agree exfoliation is essential in the overall health of your skin. The fruit enzymes in this scrub—namely, pumpkin, papaya, and pineapple—are meant to work together to gently dissolve and slough off dead skin cells that might otherwise make wrinkles look more pronounced.

C'est Beau 1872 Night Moves Vitamin C Serum
C’est Beau 1872 Night Moves Vitamin C Serum $28.00

An essential antioxidant that brightens the complexion, vitamin C can also reduce damage caused by free radicals in the environment. This one has a lightweight feel and is enriched with white tea extract meant to reduce oxidative stress.

Indeed Labs Retinol Reface
Indeed Labs Retinol Reface $20.00

“Retinol is known to improve skin cell turnover and support the production of collagen,” says Friedman. This three-in-one formula of 1% retinol microspheres, 1% bakuchiol, and 2% retinol-like peptide is the perfect entry-level retinol, promising the same skin-loving benefits of retinol sans irritation or discomfort.

Coola Classic Face Organic Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Coola Classic Face Organic Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 $32.00

Both experts recommend applying a sunscreen daily. Coola’s silky smooth formula serves as a daytime moisturizer and SPF in one, and blends flawlessly underneath makeup.

Epionce Renewal Facial Lotion
Epionce Renewal Facial Lotion $78.00

Having a strengthened skin barrier ensures skin can hold onto moisture. The apple extract, safflower seed oil, and avocado oil in this lightweight facial lotion are meant to improve the skin structure, provide hydration, and reduce the look of age spots.