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Fine Lines vs. Wrinkles: What’s The Difference

Written by Leilani Townsend, DO, Board Certified Dermatologist on November 18, 2022 No Comments

woman neck wrinkle

As we age, our skin naturally loses its structural support, causing fine lines and wrinkles to begin to appear. They might have the same causes, but there is a difference between fine lines and wrinkles. Understanding these differences can help you choose the best course of action for prevention and treatment.

What Are Fine Lines?

Fine lines are subtle, shallow wrinkles on the skin’s surface. They can form on the face, neck, chest and other areas of the body.

Fine lines are not always easy to see. You might notice them only when looking closely at your skin, or only when making certain facial expressions.

For most people, fine lines are among the first noticeable signs of aging. They appear in your 20’s or 30’s and gradually deepen as you get older. Eventually, fine lines will become wrinkles, although treatment can help slow this process.

What are Wrinkles?

Wrinkles are more deeply set than fine lines and are more easily visible. Like fine lines, they can form on the face, neck, chest, or anywhere else on the body. Wrinkles can be classified as dynamic or static in nature:

  • Dynamic wrinkles are those that appear only during certain facial expressions
  • Static wrinkles are those that are consistently present, no matter your current expression

Wrinkles are more difficult to treat than fine lines, but their appearance can be minimized with either surgical or non-surgical options.

What’s the Difference Between Fine Lines and Wrinkles?   

The depth of the crease is what signifies the difference between fine lines and wrinkles. Dermatologists define fine lines as measuring less than 1mm in depth, while a wrinkle is any crease that’s deeper than that.

Do Fine Lines and Wrinkles Occur in Different Areas?

A wrinkle can form anywhere a fine line does, and vice versa. Wrinkles may appear sooner in areas where skin is thinnest, where creases more regularly form, or where skin is exposed to sun and environmental pollutants.

What Causes Fine Lines and Wrinkles?

Fine lines and wrinkles both have the same causes. Primarily, lines form where the skin naturally creases. When we’re young, skin that creases often bounces right back to its smooth, youthful state. But as we age, our skin becomes less resilient, due to the following causes:

  • Loss of Structural Protein: Collagen and elastin both naturally decline with age. These are two important proteins which help give skin its structure and elasticity.
  • Sagging Skin: The epidermis is the outermost layer of our skin, while the dermis lies beneath. Aging weakens the bond between the two. As the dermis separates from the epidermis, skin begins to sag, leading to more wrinkles.
  • Slower Skin Cell Turnover: As we get older, nutrients are delivered more slowly to the skin. Damaged skin cells are less quickly repaired and the production of new skin cells slows down.
  • Thinning Skin: Skin becomes thinner as we age, while the fat content below also diminishes. This loss of thickness and volume contributes to wrinkling.

Each of the above factors is largely dependent on genetics. But lifestyle and environmental factors can speed up the aging process, regardless of our genes.

  • Sun Damage: Damage from UV light is the greatest contributor to aging skin. UV rays not only degrade collagen and elastin, but disrupt the connection between the epidermis and dermis. This leaves skin looser and more vulnerable to wrinkling.
  • Smoking: Toxins in cigarette smoke also break down collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkle formation, especially around the mouth.
  • Pollution: Pollutants in the air from cars and busy cities not only degrades structural proteins, but creates free radicals. These unstable compounds damage skin cells, leading to wrinkles.

Treating Fine Lines

If you’ve already begun to notice fine lines, beginning a prevention and treatment protocol is key. Treating fine lines can help prevent them from becoming static wrinkles, which are far more difficult to treat. The following can help minimize the appearance of fine lines and deter the onset of wrinkles.

Avoid Sun Damage: Any type of sun exposure contributes to aging skin, even if you don’t burn. Use broad-spectrum sun protection daily, one that blocks both UVA and UVB light. In addition, keep your skin protected with hats, sunglasses and clothing.

Stay Hydrated: Fine lines and wrinkles are more visible on skin that’s dehydrated. For hydrated skin, drink plenty of water every day, and avoid diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol.

Use Moisturizer: Moisturizers can help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Those containing hyaluronic acid help skin hold on to water, which helps maintain a plump appearance.

Begin an Anti-Aging Skin Care Routine: Over the counter anti-aging serums and creams can help tighten skin and prevent fine lines from getting worse. Look for the following ingredients:

Prescription Medication: Prescription-strength retinoids such as Tretinoin reduce the visibility of fine lines, improve skin’s texture and also treat discoloration.

Treating Wrinkles

Once fine lines have progressed into wrinkles, they cannot be permanently erased, but they can be minimized. Surgical treatment offers the most dramatic results, but non-surgical options can also help smooth skin.

Botox & Dermal Fillers: Botox works best as a preventative, as it slows the formation of wrinkles by temporarily paralyzing muscles that would typically contract into creases. Dermal fillers are used to treat wrinkles by smoothing creases and adding volume to areas with thin skin.

Chemical Peels: Chemical exfoliation removes skin’s outermost layers. This triggers a healing process in which new skin cells are formed, without their predecessor’s imperfections.

Microneedling: Microneedling encourages new collagen and elastin production by damaging the skin’s surface with thousands of tiny pin pricks.

Laser Resurfacing: Laser treatment also works by causing micro-damage to the skin’s surface. As skin repairs itself, new collagen and elastin is produced for greater firmness.

Plastic Surgery: Cosmetic surgery may be the best treatment option for severe, deeply set wrinkles. A surgical procedure can tighten skin and transfer fat for a dramatically more youthful look.


Leilani Townsend, DO

Dr. Townsend is board certified in dermatology, has been published in multiple medical journals, and has given lectures at several national meetings. She is a fellow of the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Dr. Townsend has passion for medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology, and is dedicated to providing thorough care and exceptional service to her patients.


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