Fine Lines Versus Wrinkles: The Difference & How To Address Them Both
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Wrinkles come in quite a few forms. Not to get all science-y on you, but you can have a combination of elastotic wrinkles, gravitational wrinkles, atrophic wrinkles, and the list goes on (read all about the different types of wrinkles here).
Yet with all of that technical jargon, one common (and confusing) issue remains: What about fine lines versus wrinkles? You may use the terms interchangeably in everyday conversation, but do they actually mean something different in the skin care space? Great question—we had derms weigh in below.
Fine lines vs. wrinkles: What's the difference?
The thing is, there isn't really a set definition—it's more of a colloquial distinction, and there are some conflicting opinions. "Fine lines are often considered to be baby wrinkles," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., as the faint etchings can mature into deeper folds later on. "Others consider them to be separate entities, not related to facial expression but more a function of UV light," he adds, since UV rays alter the underlying elastic structure in the skin, which can cause fine, tissue-like creases (aka crepey skin).
But again, there's no hard rule to separate the two in dermatology. "If you get five dermatologists in a room, you'll likely get five different opinions on what constitutes a wrinkle versus a line," adds Zeichner. Of course, you can always assess the crease itself: A fine line will often appear, well, fine and faint, while a wrinkle may be more static and deep-set. But even this can be subjective, depending on what you consider "fine."
How fine lines turn into wrinkles.
If you regard fine lines as "baby" wrinkles, you might notice those once softer etchings start to stick around over time. This happens as your skin thins and collagen levels dwindle with age, which makes it more difficult for your skin to rebound to its original shape—and, thus, those fine lines start to settle in. "Over time, these lines will deepen and etch into the skin, similar to the way folding paper will leave a crease," board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D., founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care tells mbg about dynamic wrinkles.
How to ease them both.
Whether you consider fine lines "baby wrinkles" or not, it shouldn't affect how you approach those folds. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter much because we [address] them the same way," says Zeichner. See below for your best practices:
Protect your skin from UV rays.
It's the No. 1 tip for maintaining a youthful skin texture: "Sun protection is critical since up to 80% of the signs of skin aging1—including thinning and loss of elasticity—are due to UV [rays]," says Bailey. Find a sunscreen you love (one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays; here are some of our favorite mineral sunscreens for your face), and be smart about your time in the sun; proper sun protection goes far beyond a bottle of SPF).
Stimulate collagen production.
"You want to stimulate collagen production to strengthen the foundation of the skin, which counteracts wrinkling and can improve the depth of wrinkles you already have," notes Zeichner.
"This is where topical ingredients like retinol or glycolic acid are effective." These ingredients encourage cell turnover, provide exfoliation, and help support collagen production to replenish a smoother skin texture. If your skin is sensitive to glycolic acid (it's a more intense AHA), feel free to select something gentler, like lactic or mandelic acid.
You can also support your body's natural collagen production endogenously with hydrolyzed collagen supplements.* In fact, studies have shown that taking collagen peptides will support skin elasticity and hydration levels and promote youthful texture2.* See here for our all-time favorite collagen supplements to choose from.
Protect with antioxidants.
Antioxidants help the skin improve its texture, tone, and all-around health—they're a must-have in any skin care routine, whether you're dealing with fine lines, dryness, or overall dullness. And you can include them in one of two ways: First, you can find antioxidant-rich topicals, like serums and creams, to nurture your skin barrier. "Topical antioxidant skin care products help to [neutralize free radicals in cells] that lead to skin aging and loss of elasticity," Bailey notes. (Think vitamin C, niacinamide, CoQ10, etc.)
Additionally, you could help support your body's natural antioxidant defenses with targeted supplements—when consumed, antioxidants can help buffer the skin against photoaging by both absorbing UV rays and helping neutralize UV-induced oxidative stress3.* You might want to opt for capsules with astaxanthin, in particular, as this powerhouse phytonutrient has been shown to reduce wrinkles in as little as six weeks.*
Keep the skin hydrated.
Keeping the skin well moisturized not only improves barrier function overall but can have an immediate "plumping" effect on fine lines. "This is where ingredients like hyaluronic acid are useful," notes Zeichner, since the beloved humectant pulls moisture from the air into the upper layer of your skin, which keeps skin cells hydrated and your complexion supple and bouncy.*
Find our favorite HA serums here, or seek other hydrators in your routine—aloe, glycerin, and colloidal oat are common crowd-pleasers. As a reminder, those ingredients are humectants, which means you'll want to layer on an occlusive (i.e., moisturizer or oil) to make sure that hydration doesn't simply evaporate off the surface of the skin.
Be mindful of facial movements & sleep positions.
We're certainly not going to tell you to stop smiling or say you can only sleep on your back, but you can take note of how you are resting your face when not actively engaging. "Of course live your life to the fullest, but if you are at home, resting the muscles on your face helps, especially when throughout the day the mouth is in constant motion," says aesthetic registered nurse Neethi Masur, R.N., at SKINNEY MedSpa, about smile lines.
And if you tend to sleep with your face smashed against the pillow (yes, sleep wrinkles are a thing), perhaps consider investing in some silk sheets—the fabric prevents friction and provides some slip for delicate skin.
Is there a difference between fine lines and wrinkles? Technically, not really, but people tend to categorize fine lines as "younger" folds with the ability to mature into full-on wrinkles down the line. The good news is, you can approach these lines the same as any other type of wrinkle; all creases are ultimately inevitable at some point, but you can soften their appearance and delay their arrival—yes, even within the delicate under-eye area.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.