There’s a lot to love about the evolution that happens as we age: getting better at self-care, relaxing into emotionally mature relationships, and hopefully achieving a little more financial security. But when it comes to fine lines and wrinkles (read: crow’s feet), a completely natural part of aging, we’re somewhat less enamored.
What Are Crow’s Feet?
Crow’s feet are the perpendicular pull lines around the eyes, specifically where the muscles insert into the skin. They’re caused by normal facial movements, such as squinting, laughing, and smiling.
Maybe it’s because we’ve often been taught to strive for an endlessly youthful appearance, which, let’s face it, can be problematic. Sometimes the best way to embrace aging is by taking care of yourself—from your diet to your skincare routine—and that includes learning about preventative anti-aging measures and even treatments if it feels right for you.
Remember, crow’s feet are natural. If you’re smiling and laughing enough to develop fine lines around your eyes, then you’re definitely doing something right! But wanting to keep skin smoother around that area isn’t a crime. To find out more about this common concern, we tapped dermatologists Neal Schultz, MD as well as Anna Guanche, MD.
Keep scrolling to learn more about what causes crow’s feet and how to prevent or minimize their appearance.
To understand how wrinkles form, Schulz says to picture a paperclip. “When you bend that paperclip back and forth and back and forth, after a while, the paperclip will break. This is the same with your skin. Repetitive motions that cause creases in your skin can break the collagen and elastin fibers in your skin and cause wrinkles anywhere on the face.”
Case in point: frowning. This repetitive motion stretches out the delicate skin around your eyes and your forehead. Try to be conscious of when you frown so that you do it less, or even better, try to nip frowning in the bud by instantly de-stressing.
Wear SPF and Sunglasses
Both Schultz and Guanche also recommend wearing SPF daily to prevent UV damage and premature aging as well as proper sunglasses and eyeglasses to prevent squinting and to keep your eyes healthy.
“Squinting from the sun is a repetitive movement, and just as in that paper clip analogy, continuous squinting causes the collagen and elastic fibers to break down and wrinkles to form,” says Schulz.
Rethink Your Pillow (and Pillowcase)
Even though sleep is one of the most essential things for keeping our skin smooth and radiant, ironically, it might be responsible for some lines. “Sometimes, your skin gets pulled on the pillowcase when you are sleeping, and that causes creases in your skin,” Schultz says.
“The ideal way to sleep to avoid wrinkles is on your back using a U-shaped travel pillow. This is not something that most people can do, so using a silk pillowcase can help,” says Schultz. “Our skin is able to slide more easily and won’t get tugged or pulled.”
Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Guanche adds that eating antioxidant-rich fruits and nuts, including coconut oil, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and walnuts, is helpful but only a start. “Since [crow’s feet] are dynamic lines caused by facial expression, they will not be erased with even the greatest of diets.”
Get Preventive Botox
While Botox might seem like a last resort for getting rid of wrinkles, both Schultz and Guanche are fans, even as a preventative measure. “If you’re afraid of the needle, topical botulinum toxin is available in your dermatologist’s office,” Schultz says. He adds, “It has the exact same results as the injectable form with no pain.” Guanche recommends baby Botox: “Low-dose neuromodulators, such as Botox, Xeomin, Jeuveau, or Dysport, can prevent the deepening of lines in the crow’s feet area.”
But like any treatment, Botox is not without its side effects. Although generally mild and “very tolerable when an experienced and properly trained board-certified dermatologist is chosen,” says Guanche, they may include bruising, swelling, and asymmetry. Also, keep in mind that Botox isn’t for everyone. According to our experts, if you’re pregnant or have had facial paralysis, you should not use Botox.
Try Acid Peels or Laser Treatments
If you need to break out the big guns, it might be time to pay a visit to a dermatologist. “In-office glycolic acid peels are a great start. We use a higher percentage of glycolic acid than you can get at home, and it takes less than 10 minutes for the entire procedure. The acid actually works in two to three minutes,” Schultz says. “Also, laser treatments are available. They work by making your body believe there is a small wound. The body reacts by building more collagen to heal the wound.”
Exfoliation is another important pre-emptive measure, but it also helps minimize crow’s feet that have already started forming. “Exfoliating works by taking away the dead skin cells on the top layer of your skin by forcing fresh skin to the surface. This also adds volume to the epidermis, helping to smooth lines,” Schultz says.
Use Glycolic Acid and Peptides
Schultz also champions chemical exfoliants and says the gold standard is glycolic acid. “Under the epidermis is the dermis, where the collagen is formed. Using glycolic acid to exfoliate helps promote new collagen growth, which also adds volume to the dermis. This easy step can help smooth out the early lines.”
He also suggests using peptides, which are “tiny particles that the body thinks are little pieces of broken collagen,” he explains. “The body ‘sees’ this and, in turn, the dermis makes more collagen to replace the broken collagen.”
Have you heard? Microneedling is the newest way to fix all your skin issues—crow’s feet included. Guanche says, “In-office, we can do a series of deep microneedling procedures, which stimulates collagen and, therefore, minimizes the appearance of lines. For this, we also could opt for a series of Jessner [chemical] peels, a light peel that exfoliates and smoothes out fine lines. For deeper lines, a series of Fraxel 1550 [laser] treatments would be ideal.”
Work with your dermatologist to figure out what treatment works best for you. Every chemical peel and in-office treatment should be customized to fit your skin needs and is never a one-size-fits-all solution, so to speak.
At what age can you begin to develop crow’s feet?
Generally, you can begin to see crow’s feet develop in your mid-30s; they can also develop for some as early as their mid-20s. “Preventative care is key,” Schultz says.
Can you use any anti-aging treatment for your eye area?
In the case of crow’s feet, it is best to look for anti-aging treatments that specify they are for your eye area. The skin around your eyes is much more delicate than on other parts of your face, so using a more concentrated formula that is still gentle is key.
Can you use foundation or concealer to mask crow’s feet?
Using products like foundation or concealers will only make your crow’s feet look more pronounced. Heavy makeup products may settle in the crevices of wrinkles, drawing unwanted attention to that area. Just remember there is no reason to conceal crow’s feet. It’s a normal part of aging that everybody faces.