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It’s all fun and games until you have your photo taken for your passport. It’s the most unforgiving self-portrait and a humbling experience. Even though they’re sometimes called smile lines, the mere sight of nasolabial folds in their full glory can instantly wipe a smile off your face. You can easily look past the slight asymmetry or a few forehead wrinkles. They’re not that noticeable when you relax your face. But trust me when I say that the nasolabial folds do not agree with a resting B face. It just makes it worse! So what makes it better then? Today we dive deep into these annoying facial parentheses. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of smile lines.
What are Smile Lines?
The technical term for smile lines is nasolabial folds. Also called laugh lines, nasolabial folds are the vertical lines that start from the sides of the nose and extend to the corners of the mouth.
Smile lines are not permanent on young skin. Normally, they appear when you smile and disappear when you relax your face.
But starting from your mid to late 20s or sometimes early 30s, they settle on the skin in the form of furrows (nasolabial groove).
And just like other wrinkles and creases on the face, nasolabial folds become more prominent and entrenched as you age.
What Causes Smile Lines?
The main cause of smile lines is, of course, aging. With aging, the skin loses its elasticity and the face loses volume. The fat loss on the cheeks causes sagging on the mid-face (1), which causes the appearance of “folds” on the sides of the nose.
Additionally, poor diet, lack of exercise, bad habits, and unprotected sun exposure can damage healthy collagen (2). These factors contribute to how your skin changes and ages. Cumulatively, they set off a chain of events that damage your skin’s integrity.
So sun exposure won’t directly give you nasolabial folds. But it’ll dehydrate your skin and damage proteins like collagen and elastin. And in time, your skin won’t be able to bounce back from these “insults” fast enough.
All those mechanisms that are responsible for keeping your skin in tippy-top shape start to malfunction, resulting in what they call “extrinsic aging”.
And finally, you can’t overlook the reality of genetics. If your family has them, you’ll probably have them too. In summary, genetics, age, and lifestyle are the major causes of the formation and worsening of nasolabial folds.
Can You Prevent Smile Lines?
You can’t really prevent the formation of smile lines. You can, however, soften their appearance and delay their formation.
To delay the formation of nasolabial folds and prevent them from getting worse, treat them as you treat any other wrinkle on the face.
Wear SPF regularly, enhance UV protection with proper clothing, quit bad habits, get enough sleep, and establish a proper skincare routine. You know the drill!
How To Get Rid of Smile Lines/Nasolabial Folds
Depending on your age, the severity of the lines, and your budget, there are ways to treat nasolabial folds and reduce their appearance.
1. Botox For Smile Lines
If you’re familiar, you know that Botox is used to treat expression wrinkles like the ones around the eyes, (crow’s feet), on the forehead, and between the brows.
Botox temporarily paralyzes the muscles and smooths out wrinkles. Other uses include the treatment of bunny lines, reduction of the masseter muscle in the jaw, and the treatment of neck lines.
So normally, Botox is not used for treating nasolabial folds. But there is conflicting information on the subject.
To clear the air, I reached out to Daniel Julien, NP. Daniel Julien is a Nurse Practitioner and Medical Director at Third Avenue Spa in Ottawa, Canada. He’s triple-certified by the Canadian Board of Aesthetics Medicine.
“Botox can help nasolabial folds. But it’s not for everyone. It will give the illusion of having a slightly longer upper lip. In addition, less of your upper teeth will show when you smile. So I only recommend it for someone who has a slight gummy smile and a shorter ergotrid [the area between the upper lip and the nose].”
To brush up, a gummy smile is the excessive display of the upper gummy tissue when smiling. A common cause of a gummy smile is the hyperactivity of the muscle responsible for lifting your upper lip.
It’s called levator labii superioris alaeque nasi (LLSAN). This is one of the muscles injected with Botox to reduce the display of the gum tissue. As a result, the upper lip relaxes and it doesn’t lift just as much.
Incidentally, the hyperactive LLSAN can also accentuate the look of nasolabial folds. So relaxing this muscle also softens the top of the nasolabial folds (3).
Coming back to what Julien suggests, not everyone is eligible for these injections. We have a whole guide on gummy smile Botox where you can learn more about the subject.
2. Fillers For Smile Lines
Dermal filler injections are the most common non-surgical procedures to fix nasolabial folds (4). Dermal fillers like Restylane and Juvederm are safe, temporary solutions that have minimal side effects.
To treat nasolabial lines with dermal fillers, your medical provider injects hyaluronic acid into the nasolabial lines to replace the volume. Fillers “fill in” the wrinkles from the inside, resulting in plump and smooth skin.
Remember that the mid-face is not an isolated area. As long as you see a professional, they’ll consider your unique anatomy and will be able to see the main cause of the folds.
And depending on that, you may need fillers on the cheeks to replace volume and lift up the folds as well. You can get amazing results from dermal fillers to fix nasolabial folds.
Also, you can always “undo” the procedure. If you’re not happy with how you look after the injections, your medical provider can inject hyaluronidase to melt that injection right away.
Below is a before/after image of a patient of Julien’s. She received treatment for nasolabial folds using dermal fillers. As you can see, the best part about these injections is that the results are instant! And FYI, Julien has a very educational YouTube channel dedicated to injectables!
3. Other Treatments For Smile Lines
There’s no shortage of anti-aging treatments to improve the skin texture and diminish the appearance of wrinkles. And most of them won’t discriminate between wrinkles.
So resurfacing treatments like lasers and chemical peels can help reduce the depth and length of nasolabial lines.
Anything that renews and tightens the skin or produces collagen will help achieve a tighter and more youthful complexion. These include treatments like radiofrequency (5), micro-needling, and light therapies as well.
Skincare To Get Rid of Smile Lines
Just like in-office treatments, a variety of skincare products is available to get rid of smile lines. Some of them will require some commitment to achieve noticeable and long-lasting results. And some of them can work instantly but won’t have long-term effects.
But as a general rule of thumb, it’s essential to establish and follow a proper skincare routine. Cleanse your face daily, use an appropriate moisturizer, and follow up with SPF.
Additionally, exfoliate regularly. Because exfoliants like alpha-hydroxy acids are madly anti-aging as they regulate skin turnover and produce collagen. You can also give at-home devices a try and even start micro-needling to tone things up.
Below are the best skincare ingredients and products to get rid of smile lines, and fix and soften nasolabial folds.
1. Hyaluronic Acid
As a general rule of thumb, dehydrated skin makes wrinkles, including nasolabial folds, more prominent. And hyaluronic acid is the ultimate cure for dehydrated skin. As a humectant, hyaluronic acid attracts and binds water to the skin. It has a temporary plumping effect on the skin, which softens and smooths wrinkles.
As an ingredient, it’s present in almost all skincare products. But for nasolabial folds, a potent hyaluronic acid serum is going to make all the difference. Use your serum twice a day to keep the skin hydrated, plump, and smooth.
Unlike hyaluronic acid, retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) won’t smooth out wrinkles instantly. However, retinoids give more permanent and satisfying results. Prescription retinoids or over-the-counter retinol are the ultimate anti-aging skincare ingredients. They’re the best there is. And they will help with nasolabial folds as well.
Retinoids boost collagen production by speeding up skin turnover. With regular use, retinoids improve the skin texture, reduce wrinkle depth, and even out the skin tone. But they need caution especially if you’re a beginner. Learn more about how to use retinol and start an anti-aging skincare routine with it. And be patient.
Just like retinoids, antioxidants are long-term solutions. They help maintain youthful skin and prevent the deepening of wrinkles. Antioxidants stimulate collagen production and can reverse signs of extrinsic aging. They improve your skin’s health and make it stronger against the damaging effects of UV rays, pollution, and other external stressors.
Use antioxidants in your skincare routine in the form of a vitamin C serum. You can also try vitamin E, green tea, resveratrol, and ferulic acid. Look for these potent ingredients in your antioxidant serums.
One specific group of peptides is incredibly helpful in smoothing out facial wrinkles like nasolabial lines. And that is neuropeptides. And the most popular neuropeptide is acetyl hexapeptide-8 aka Argireline.
Argireline, as a skincare ingredient, was literally made to mimic the effects of Botox. Obviously, it’s not as effective. However, the idea is the same. Used in creams and serums, Argireline reduces the appearance of wrinkles by preventing muscle contraction (6).
5. Wrinkle Patches
Wrinkle patches like silicone and gel patches are instant solutions to reduce the appearance of smile lines. They’re cheap, practical, and incredibly satisfying. Silicone patches work locally to plump up wrinkles by trapping moisture in.
Similarly, gel patches create a physical occlusion on the skin. They plump up fine lines and wrinkles by infusing the skin with hydrating ingredients. As a result, the skin appears smoother. Wrinkle patches can be of great help whenever you need a quick fix for nasolabial folds.
So hopefully, you have a better understanding of nasolabial folds and ways to get rid of smile lines. Here’s the thing, though. You can’t isolate nasolabial folds from the rest of your face. Because they are right at the center of your face, constantly interacting with the upper and the lower part.
So anything that happens in the mid area will have an effect on the lower or the upper area. This can be a great thing. It means that if there’s an improvement in that area, it’ll improve your overall appearance as well.
The irony with smile lines is that they say you get that from smiling a lot. But they’re more visible when you’re not smiling. So what do you do? You slap on a wrinkle patch, put on a big smile, and don’t worry too much about it.
Read Next: The Best Anti-Aging Creams For Your 30s
- El-Mesidy, M.S., Alaklouk, W.T. & Azzam, O.A. Nasolabial fold correction through cheek volume loss restoration versus thread lifting: a comparative study. Arch Dermatol Res 312, 473–480 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00403-019-02031-7
- Manríquez, J. J., Cataldo, K., Vera-Kellet, C., & Harz-Fresno, I. (2014). Wrinkles. BMJ clinical evidence, 2014, 1711.
- Draelos, Z. D. (2011). Chapter 42: Botulinum toxins: Softening of the nasolabial fold or “gummy smile ” [E-book]. In Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures (p. 348). Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444317657
- Draelos, Z. D. (2011). Chapter 43: Hyaluronic acid fillers [E-book]. In Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures (pp. 352–355). Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444317657
- Bowler P. J. (2009). Impact on facial rejuvenation with dermatological preparations. Clinical interventions in aging, 4, 81–89. https://doi.org/10.2147/cia.s3524
- Satriyasa B. K. (2019). Botulinum toxin (Botox) A for reducing the appearance of facial wrinkles: a literature review of clinical use and pharmacological aspect. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 12, 223–228. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S202919