What actually causes wrinkles? ‘Groundbreaking’ new study may have found the answer

January 15, 2024

It has long been believed that wrinkles are simply caused by the aging process—and exacerbated by ultraviolet light from the Sun—but bacteria may actually be to blame, according to findings of a “groundbreaking” research study, reports the New York Post.

The Center for Microbiome Innovation at the University of California-San Diego teamed up with L’Oréal Research and Innovation for the study, which was published on Thursday, January 4, in the journal Frontiers.

In a nutshell, the researchers found that wrinkles are linked to the skin microbiome, which is the collection of microorganisms that inhabit our skin. The findings explain why the aging process is not uniform, as some folks of the same age look older than others.

“Our skin also changes physiologically with age; for example, we gain wrinkles and our skin gets drier,” author Se Jin Song, the CMI Director of Research, said in a statement. “But there is variation in what this looks like in people—you’ve probably noticed that there are some people who have younger- or older-looking skin than many others their age.”

Using data from 13 studies of 650 female participants between 18 and 70, researchers found that a more diverse microbiome was connected to more crow’s feet—the laugh lines and wrinkles on the outer corners of the eyes.

In other words, the larger variety of germs on the skin, the more fine lines around the eyes. However, having this dreaded diverse microbiome wasn’t all bad. Those who exhibited a more diverse microbiome actually were less likely to suffer water loss, or a lack of moisture which can make the skin look saggy and wrinkled in places other than the eyes.

“Microbes on our skin change fairly predictably with age,” Se Jing Song explained, but the researchers were able to identify the microbes associated with crow’s feet wrinkles versus “those that are associated with simply age as a chronological number.”  

The team said that while this is the first study to isolate microbiomes associated with the signs of aging—and specifically isolating those associated with all-over wrinkles as well as crow’s feet—there’s much more research needed to figure out how to hack the microbiome and actually prevent signs of aging.

“By confirming a link between the microbiome and skin health, we’ve laid the groundwork for further studies that discover specific microbiome biomarkers related to skin aging, and, one day, show how to modify them to generate novel and highly targeted recommendations for skin health,” co-author Rob Knight, the CMI faculty director and professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering, Computer Science & Engineering and Data Science at UC-San Diego, said.

Co-author Qian Zheng, L’Oréal North America’s head of advanced research, said the findings about how the skin microbiome affects aging will help the company develop future “products that meet the unique needs of each individual.”

“This research is groundbreaking in identifying new microbial biomarkers linked to visible signs of aging like crow’s feet wrinkles,” Zheng said. “It marks a significant step towards developing technologies for healthier, more youthful skin. We look forward to sharing new results as they become available, furthering the scientific community’s understanding and contributing to advancing new skincare solutions.”

Research contact: @nypost