How to Tell the Difference Between a Fine Line and a Wrinkle

A dermatologist weighs in on whether these common signs of aging are treated differently.

Crumpled up and then roughly smoothed out pink paper
Photo: Pavel Aliakseyeu/Getty Images

Every single anti-aging product I apply on my face and body claims it'll help delay fine lines and wrinkles. Not just wrinkles. Not just fine lines. Fine lines and wrinkles. It's a package deal. But that conjunction made me start wondering about the actual difference between the two signs of aging. Would I even be able to call out which one showed up on the corners of my eyes?

I reached out to board-certified, New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner for his explanation on what differentiates fine lines from wrinkles and how to best treat each.

Let's start with fine lines, which Dr. Zeichner says are caused by a weakness in the skin's foundation. "Fine lines start to develop when the skin becomes folded and it is not able to bounce back to its original shape," he explains.

They're little skin creases that commonly form directly on the area of facial movement, or adjacent to it, but they can appear on any area of the face. For example, Dr. Zeichner notes that you might see a fine line on cheeks that may have become crepe-y due to age and sun exposure.

A wrinkle isn't all that different. "The main difference between fine lines and wrinkles is the depth of the crease in the skin. Fine lines are very mild, while wrinkles are deeper set," he explains. "Some refer to wrinkles as expression lines and feel they apply only to skin folds that appear in areas facial expression."

It makes sense then that both are treated by preventing damage, strengthening the skin, and preventing skin folding. The first step is limiting UVA/UVB exposure by regularly applying (and re-applying) SPF.

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Dr. Zeichner says that topical skincare products that contain collagen-stimulating ingredients like retinol or injections of products like Dysport that relax muscles that contract during facial expressions can also work as preventatives. If a line is already there, products like fillers can be used to plump up the spot.

At the end of the day, if you're wearing sunscreen and taking care of your skin with products meant for your skin type, you won't really need to worry about the difference quite as much.

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