Do I Have Fine Lines or Actual Wrinkles? Derms Explain the Difference

Do I Have Fine Lines or Actual Wrinkles? Derms Explain the Difference

Do I Have Fine Lines or Actual Wrinkles? Derms Explain the Difference

How to Prevent and Treat Fine Lines

No, you're not crazy: The fine lines on your face do differ from fully-formed wrinkles. But they can be a sign that a wrinkle is forming due to factors ranging from the preventable (exogenous), like sun damage, to the non-preventable (endogenous, like, you guessed it, aging).

To learn more about fine lines—including how they differ from wrinkles and how they can be treated and prevented–we turned to the experts: Board-certified dermatologists Tess Mauricio, MD, FAAD, Marisa Garshick, MD, and Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FAAD. Read on for what they shared.

Fine Lines vs. Wrinkles: How They Differ

“Fine lines are shallow, faint lines usually created by certain movements [or] caused by factors like sun damage and dehydration, appearing early in aging. Fine lines can be precursors to wrinkles,” says Mauricio. “Wrinkles are deeper and more pronounced, resulting from collagen breakdown and muscle movements, [and become] more visible over time.”

Causes of Lines on Face

Many actions and lifestyle choices can lead to fine lines and, eventually, wrinkles. The good news? Most are preventable.

Repeated Facial Expressions

"When we make certain facial expressions [frequently], the repetitive movement can lead to creases," says Garshick. "Similar to when a piece of paper is folded repeatedly and a crease forms, the same happens with specific facial expressions."

Sun Exposure

Second to actual aging, this may be the most well-known cause of fine lines, and it's important to take preventative steps to protect the skin from the sun. All three experts note that sun exposure causes DNA damage and increased free radical production leading to collagen breakdown. 


As Derek Zoolander once said, “Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.” So, unsurprisingly, dehydration and lack of moisture in the skin can lead to fine lines and, eventually, wrinkles. “Dehydrated skin lacks the plumping effect of hydration in skin cells and can make fine lines more noticeable,” notes Murphy-Rose.

Lack of Sleep

If you’ve ever experienced a lack of sleep, you don’t need us to tell you that it’s the worst. But, beyond the tiredness and grogginess (and perhaps crankiness), your skin is impacted, too. “Lack of sleep can contribute to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. While we sleep, our skin experiences restoration and repair to help keep it looking healthy,” says Garshick. “With less sleep, our skin may not experience as much repair, and fine lines and wrinkles may be more visible.”

Poor Nutrition

Eat good, feel good, look good. "Poor nutrition can lead to decreased production of healthy collagen and elastin as well as [the] development of poor quality collagen," says Murphy-Rose. "A well-balanced diet including adequate protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants," can help keep fine lines at bay. And make sure to refill that Stanley cup: "Hydration supports healthy skin and aids in helping prevent fine lines and wrinkles over time," she says.


While fine lines may be the least of your worries if you are still smoking cigarettes, they are still most certainly an unwanted side effect. "Smoking increases oxidative stress and leads to DNA damage and collagen breakdown which can contribute to fine lines and wrinkles," says Garshick. "Additionally, those who smoke are also at risk of smoker's lines, which develop around the mouth as a result of the repeated movement needed to smoke a cigarette."

How to Prevent and Treat Fine Lines

Along with avoiding smoking, consistently getting good sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet, there are a few more steps you can take to curb the formation of fine lines (and, eventually, wrinkles).

Skincare Ingredients

Among the countless skincare ingredients out there, a few are particularly helpful in the fight against fine lines.

  • Retinoids: “Vitamin A derivatives like retinol and prescription-strength retinoids increase production of collagen and elastin, preventing and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Murphy-Rose. Garshick seconds this: “A retinoid can help to address fine lines and wrinkles as it helps to boost collagen production, which not only helps to prevent the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles but can also treat [them].”
  • Antioxidants: “Topical antioxidants like vitamin C, coquinone, resveratrol, green tea, and vitamin E neutralize free radicals to prevent cellular and DNA damage,” says Murphy-Rose. “This helps to protect collagen and keep skin more youthful.”
  • Peptides: “Peptides are small protein molecules that signal to the body to produce more collagen, which makes them helpful to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Garshick. “An example is the RescueMD DNA Repair Complex ($88), which, in addition to lapachol, moisturizing ingredients, and antioxidants, also contains Collaxyl peptides, which help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and leave the skin looking softer and smoother.”

Sun Protection

"Sun protection is crucial to keeping skin healthy and youthful," says Murphy-Rose. "UV radiation causes DNA damage, increases free radical production, and causes many signs of skin aging including fine lines and wrinkles by triggering collagen breakdown and elastolysis."

Sunscreen is an easy place to start when it comes to protection. “Apply sunscreen daily to prevent UV damage and collagen breakdown,” says Mauricio. “A great option is AlumierMD’s Sheer Hydration SPF 40. It is a sheer, moisturizing, 100% physical, broad-spectrum facial sunscreen.”


I am once again deferring to Zoolander (see previous). Hydration is crucial for keeping your body happy from head to toe, including your skin. Garshick tells us humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin help draw in moisture, plumping the skin and improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. And don’t forget to drink water.

Non-Invasive Treatments

“A great way to treat and prevent fine lines and wrinkles is to undergo an in-office treatment that stimulates collagen and elastin production,” suggests Murphy-Rose. “My favorite of these is Sofwave, which uses high-frequency, high-intensity ultrasound technology to heat tissue just below the surface of the skin to powerfully stimulate collagen production, improve the quality of the skin, prevent fine lines and wrinkles, and help ward off signs of aging. This treatment has no downtime.”

She’s also a fan of laser treatments. “CO2 lasers significantly improve wrinkles by resurfacing skin and remodeling collagen. There is downtime of a few weeks with this procedure,” she says. “Non-ablative fractional resurfacing with Fraxel Dual is another great option, with five to seven days of downtime including redness, mild swelling, and roughness to the skin.”

Garshick’s recs include celeb-loved at-home devices. “Non-invasive treatments that can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles include therapies like red light, such as the Solawave Radiant Renewal 4-in-1 Skincare Wand or the CurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy Mask, which can help to boost collagen production and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” 

Mauricio suggests considering “microdermabrasion, chemical peels, microneedling, ultrasound and radiofrequency to stimulate collagen production and improve skin texture,” as does Garshick, who mentions Morpheus8 radiofrequency microneedling as a possible treatment option.


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