Does Wrinkle Prevention Really Prevent Wrinkles?

Rebecca Harrington investigates


I got my first wrinkle a couple of years ago. I noticed it, initially, when I was in the parking lot of a Target. I looked in the car mirror and saw a small fissure on my forehead, like the beginning of a crack in a shoe. I immediately covered it with my finger.

“That’s not a wrinkle,” said my mother, who was my companion in the car. “Take your finger away from your forehead.”

But I did not. For almost a year, every time the light hit my wrinkle, I covered it with a finger. This seemed to work moderately well. The only problem was that sometimes I would forget to put my finger on my wrinkle and people would see it. One day, I even forgot to put my finger on my wrinkle for an hour in the bright sun. Later, when I went home, it seemed my wrinkle had deepened. That night, I worried a lot about getting more wrinkles than my finger could cover. Was I really taking enough proactive steps to stop my wrinkle outbreak? This was when I purchased my first wrinkle cream. I was 23 years old.

I bought my first wrinkle cream from a CVS near my apartment. It came encased in a small blue L’Oreal pod. It looked somewhat like cold cream. I greedily slathered it all over my wrinkle. When I woke up, I felt like the wrinkle had disappeared but it was later revealed to be covered by a line of pimples I’d gotten from the wrinkle cream. Still, I kept using it, hoping that my cystic acne was preventing more wrinkles from sprouting all over my face.

You may think that 23 is a young age to buy wrinkle cream, but you would be wrong. I happen to have joined a growing legion of women who are buying wrinkle cream at very young ages. A recent study purports that a “third of women under the age of 25 are regularly applying products meant for the over 40s.”

“Wrinkle creams have definitely come on younger women’s radars earlier than in the past,” Dr. Carlos Charles, a cosmetic dermatologist, said in an interview. “While it’s not completely clear why that is, marketing could play a role in this phenomenon. Both television and online media sources certainly propagate the notion that deterring skin aging is dire and the appropriate age for starting this routine is oftentimes unclear.”

A quick survey of my friends shows a similar proclivity to buying preventative wrinkle cream. A male friend of mine uses moisturizer “just to prevent whatever it is that will make me look like Walter Matthau.” Another friend my age told a story of a business trip where she bought a wrinkle cream “for 100 dollars literally” because it had patented ingredients. I sympathized. I would have done the same.

But is all this prevention really helping us prevent wrinkles? It’s hard to know.

“There are a lot of studies that simple strategies like wearing an SPF containing moisturizer every day can reduce the amount and severity of fine lines developing in the future,” says Dermatologist Dr. Anne Chapas.

The principle of widespread wrinkle prevention is an odd psychological climate in which to live. Is there something weird about the idea of young people being so aware of their youth as a precious and valuable commodity that they actively try to preserve it? Have we so soundly gotten the message that our youth is premium, and that aging in real time will be superficially terrifying?

In other news, my wrinkle seems like it’s here to stay. I also switched wrinkle creams! I am using one that is supposed to peel off your skin and it seems to be working. At least I don’t have acne anymore.

Rebecca Harrington recently published her second book, “I’ll Have What She’s Having.”  She is also a frequent contributor to The Cut where she attempts unique diets that no one else should.

Adorable child via the Chloé kids campaign

Get more Beauty ?