What Causes Crow’s Feet?

Crow’s feet — the fine lines that radiate from the corners of your eyes – are among the first wrinkles to form and can surface as early as your 30’s. They are dynamic wrinkles, meaning they’re most noticeable when you contract the muscles in your face, such as when you squint or smile.

Many factors contribute to crow’s feet including sun exposure, squinting, smoking, and menopause. Sun exposure is probably the most important of these. Over years, solar radiation in the form of UVA light damages elastin and collagen leading to lax skin that hangs loosely instead of clinging tight to the underlying muscles. The result is sagging, wrinkled skin.

The more natural pigment you have in your skin, the more you are protected from harmful ultraviolet radiation. This is why people with darker skin tend to have fewer crow’s feet than those with lighter skin.

Squinting contributes to crow’s feet as a result of countless contractions of the muscles around the eyes; years of squinting eventually form permanent wrinkles. Crow’s feet overlie the large muscle that surrounds your eye called the ocularis orbis. When you squeeze your eyes tight, you are contracting this muscle, forming wrinkles that radiate from the corners of your eyes to your temples. Under constant tension, as in an afternoon at the beach, the skin becomes fixed in that wrinkled position, and over years, changes in the collagen make these wrinkles permanent.

Smoking causes wrinkles by damaging collagen and elastin fibers and by depriving the skin of blood flow and oxygen. It also contributes to dynamic wrinkles like crow’s feet because you squint to keep smoke out of your eyes.

Estrogen helps prevent wrinkles by maintaining your skin’s collagen, elasticity, and hydration. Since estrogen is decreased following menopause, it can worsen your crow’s feet. Studies have demonstrated that women lose 1 to 2% of their collagen every year after menopause and that hormone replacement therapy might help maintain women’s skin’s thickness and elasticity, minimizing wrinkles.

Post written by Jeffrey Benabio, MD for The Derm Blog.

Photo: Jacob Theo, Flickr.com

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