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Wearing wrinkles well

No one likes growing old and seeing their body succumb to gravity. But while an inventive use of clothes, make-up and hair styling can disguise many signs of ageing, there is one that is a lot more difficult to hide - wrinkles.

Although a wrinkled face was once intrinsically linked with experience and wisdom, the modern obsession with youth means more women, and some men, are reaching for anti-ageing creams and having cosmetic surgery.

We are bombarded with images of celebrities and film stars with perfect wrinkle-free skins. The media and advertising industries are fixated by youth, and cosmetic companies have even been known to "drop" models when they grow too old.

The plethora of celebrity magazines is also testament to the changing times. When was the last time you saw wrinkles on the front cover of Heat magazine?

And it doesn't stop there. Just take a walk down the high street - Boots now offers injections of the powerful nerve toxin Botox, which aims to prevent wrinkles by stopping the face responding to nerve signals sent from the brain.

Thin skin

But why do we get them? Consultant plastic surgeon Nick Percival says wrinkles are a part of ageing. The dermis - the thick layer of living tissue underneath your skin - loses collagen, making it thinner. "Also, the elastin fibres in the skin degenerate, allowing the skin to sag. The result is thinner and weaker skin," he explains.

"The face is very different in that muscles are actually attached to the skin," he says. "So when the muscle contracts, the skin folds." If you make the same facial expression millions of times over your life, it is inevitable that permanent wrinkles will form on these folds - explaining why people's faces tend to show their character more as they get older.

Brow lines result from lifting up the eyebrows as they sag with gravity. "Crow's feet" come from screwing your eyes up.

A pinch and a tuck

So what can be done? "The easiest way of stopping them is to paralyse the underlying muscle," says Mr Percival. "Botox injected into the muscle interrupts signals between nerves and muscles and so stops the wrinkles from forming." The lines that join the corners of the nose with the mouth can "padded out" with injected collagen. If there is loose or saggy skin, it can be lifted.

If you want to look younger you can also have a course of chemical peeling that removes the top layer of skin and encourages collagen growth, giving you a younger looking appearance, but only for a certain period of time. Or you can have laser treatment that causes the growth of collagen and elastin within the skin itself, although it won't bond with what is already there, so again it is not a permanent change.

In fact, none of the anti-wrinkle methods, except surgery, has a permanent effect, and despite advances in cosmetic surgery, many people are fearful of what is termed "the American look" - where women old enough to be your granny look like they're permanently standing in a wind tunnel.

Strike a balance

Evidence is also building that, far from improving wrinkles, many methods can actually make you age more quickly. Anti-wrinkle creams may soon have to carry warnings about their levels of AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids). These are thought to cause long-term damage. No one yet knows the effect of regular Botox injections.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, member of the British Psychological Society, agrees that many women are buying into the mythology of anti-ageing methods, but she is not unduly concerned. "They do work to some extent because people feel more in control of their lives if they have any sort of treatment. I do see people that become obsessed with surgery, but I have not yet seen an adverse effect with other products."

The important thing, she says, is to strike a balance. "You can't be perfect all the time, but you must stop thinking you're imperfect," she says. "It is important for people to realise that attractiveness and sexiness is in the eye of the beholder, so do things that make you happy."

Although Mr Percival says wrinkles are mostly genetic, there's still plenty that can be done - sunscreen, giving up smoking and moisturisers can all help. And, of course, your general health has a strong effect on your skin.

But perhaps the best way of dealing with wrinkles is to be proud of them. Ironically, the more you worry about them, the more you'll probably get.

Further information:

British Psychological Society

Link to this story on Discovery Health

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