What Are Nasolabial Folds? Understanding Your Smile Lines

What Are Nasolabial Folds?

Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed those lines running from the sides of your nose down to the corners of your mouth? These are nasolabial folds, and they’re a natural part of our facial anatomy. But what are nasolabial folds exactly, and why do they seem to get more noticeable as we age?

I’ve spent years studying facial aesthetics, and I can tell you that nasolabial folds are more than just wrinkles. They’re a complex interplay of skin, muscle, and fat that evolves over time. Let’s look at these facial features and uncover some surprising truths about what nasolabial folds are.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Nasolabial Folds

Nasolabial folds are the lines that extend from the sides of your nose to the corners of your mouth. They’re also known as smile lines or laugh lines because they become more prominent when you smile or laugh. But what are nasolabial folds really made of?

These folds are actually dense bundles of fibrous tissue and muscles. They’re a normal part of our facial structure, and even babies have them. However, as we age, these folds can become deeper and more noticeable.

The Anatomy of Nasolabial Folds

To truly understand what nasolabial folds are, we need to look at the layers of our face:

  1. Skin: The outermost layer that we see.
  2. Subcutaneous fat: The layer of fat just beneath the skin.
  3. Muscles: The facial muscles that control our expressions.
  4. Deeper fat pads: These provide volume to our face.

Nasolabial folds involve all these layers. As we age, changes in each layer contribute to the deepening of these folds. Treatment options can vary depending on which layer is most impacted.

Why Do Nasolabial Folds Become More Noticeable?

You might be wondering why these folds seem to get deeper over time. Well, it’s not just about aging. Several factors contribute to the prominence of nasolabial folds:

  1. Loss of skin elasticity: As we age, our skin produces less collagen and elastin, making it less firm and elastic. This is especially true after rapid weight loss.
  2. Fat redistribution: The fat pads in our cheeks can shift downwards over time, which can lead to more prominent nasolabial folds, often called smile lines.
  3. Bone resorption: Our facial bones naturally lose volume as we age, providing less support for the overlying tissues. Maintaining healthy bones is important for this reason.
  4. Repeated facial expressions: Years of smiling and laughing can deepen these lines. You could even say this is one of the side effects of a happy, fulfilling life.

But here’s something that might surprise you: nasolabial folds can start becoming more noticeable as early as your 20s. It’s not just a sign of advanced age.

The Impact of Lifestyle on Nasolabial Folds

While aging is a natural process, our lifestyle choices can significantly impact how quickly and deeply our nasolabial folds develop. Let’s look at some factors that can affect what nasolabial folds are and how they appear:

Sun Exposure and Nasolabial Folds

We all love a bit of sunshine, but too much can be harmful to our skin. UV rays break down collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep our skin firm and elastic. This study on sun-induced aging shows how UV exposure can accelerate the aging process, including the deepening of nasolabial folds.

Smoking and Nasolabial Folds

If you needed another reason to quit smoking, here it is. Smoking doesn’t just affect your lungs; it also impacts your skin. The chemicals in cigarettes break down collagen and elastin, leading to premature aging and deeper nasolabial folds. Plus, the act of smoking itself involves repetitive muscle movements around the mouth that contribute to these folds, often called laugh lines, becoming more prominent.

Weight Fluctuations and Nasolabial Folds

Yo-yo dieting can wreak havoc on your skin. Rapid weight loss can lead to sagging skin, while weight gain can stretch the skin. Both can make nasolabial folds more prominent. Maintaining a stable, healthy weight is key to managing what nasolabial folds are and how they appear. Plus, frequent fluctuations in weight can weaken the skin’s ability to bounce back, making these folds more prominent in the long run.

Treatment Options for Nasolabial Folds

Now that we understand what nasolabial folds are and why they develop, let’s explore some treatment options. Remember, nasolabial folds are a natural part of our facial anatomy, and there’s no need to “fix” them unless they bother you. It’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified aesthetician to determine the best course of action for your individual needs and circumstances.

Non-Invasive Treatments

These treatments don’t involve surgery and often have little to no downtime:

  1. Dermal Fillers: These injectable treatments can plump up the skin and reduce the appearance of nasolabial folds. Hyaluronic acid fillers, sometimes referred to as dermal fillers, are popular for this purpose as they can restore lost volume and soften the appearance of these lines. The results are temporary but can provide a noticeable difference, making you look and feel more youthful.
  2. Botulinum Toxin Injections: While not directly treating the folds, these injections can relax nearby muscles, potentially softening the appearance of nasolabial folds. This treatment is more effective when the folds are caused by strong facial muscle activity rather than volume loss.
  3. Skin Resurfacing: Treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or laser skin resurfacing can improve skin texture and stimulate collagen production. These treatments address the superficial layers of the skin and can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They can make the skin look smoother and more radiant, indirectly making nasolabial folds less prominent.

Surgical Options

For more dramatic results, some people opt for surgical interventions. However, it’s crucial to have realistic expectations and to discuss the potential risks and benefits thoroughly with a qualified plastic surgeon:

  1. Facelift: This procedure can lift and tighten the skin, reducing the appearance of nasolabial folds, frown lines, and other signs of aging. A facelift is a more invasive procedure with a longer recovery time, but it offers longer-lasting results compared to non-invasive options.
  2. Fat Transfer: Fat from another part of your body can be injected into the nasolabial fold area to add volume. This procedure offers a natural-looking result, as it uses your own body’s tissues. However, the results of fat transfer can vary depending on individual factors.

Here’s a comparison of some common treatments:

TreatmentInvasivenessDuration of ResultsDowntime
Dermal FillersMinimally Invasive6-18 monthsMinimal
Botulinum ToxinMinimally Invasive3-6 monthsMinimal
Laser ResurfacingMinimally Invasive1-2 years1-2 weeks
FaceliftInvasive5-10 years2-4 weeks

Natural Ways to Manage Nasolabial Folds

If you’re not keen on medical interventions, there are natural ways to manage what nasolabial folds are and how they appear. These methods focus on maintaining skin health, boosting collagen production, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits:

Skincare for Nasolabial Folds

A good skincare routine can work wonders:

  1. Sunscreen: Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30, even on cloudy days. Sunscreen is crucial for preventing further collagen breakdown and protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, a major contributor to premature aging and deepening nasolabial folds.
  2. Moisturizer: Keep your skin hydrated to maintain its elasticity. A good moisturizer will plump up the skin, making fine lines and wrinkles less noticeable. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which attracts and retains moisture, giving your skin a plumper appearance and reducing the depth of those laugh lines.
  3. Retinoids: These vitamin A derivatives can stimulate collagen production. They’re available over the counter or by prescription from a dermatologist. Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover, which helps to diminish the appearance of wrinkles, including nasolabial folds. They’re particularly beneficial for those concerned with signs of aging, including deep wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven skin tone.

Facial Exercises for Nasolabial Folds

Some people swear by facial exercises to tone the muscles around nasolabial folds. While scientific evidence is limited, these exercises are harmless and might help improve muscle tone and circulation, potentially making the area appear firmer. Plus, they can be done anytime, anywhere.

  1. Smile and lift your cheeks as high as possible. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times. This exercise targets the muscles surrounding the mouth and cheeks, potentially helping to lift the skin and reduce the prominence of those laugh lines.
  2. Place your index fingers on either side of your mouth. Smile widely while pressing against the nasolabial folds. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.

Lifestyle Changes

Small changes in your daily habits can make a big difference:

  1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your skin plump and healthy. Dehydration can make wrinkles more noticeable, including nasolabial folds. Aim for at least eight glasses of water a day to maintain skin elasticity and minimize the appearance of those smile lines.
  2. Eat a balanced diet: Foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can support skin health. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds in your diet to provide your body with the nutrients it needs for healthy skin, potentially slowing down the deepening of nasolabial folds. Incorporate foods rich in collagen-boosting nutrients like vitamin C for an extra skin-firming effect.
  3. Get enough sleep: Proper rest allows your skin to repair and regenerate. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to allow your body to produce collagen, a protein crucial for maintaining skin elasticity and reducing the appearance of wrinkles, including nasolabial folds. This will also help reduce dark circles and give you a more radiant complexion, indirectly minimizing the appearance of folds.
  4. Manage stress: High stress levels can accelerate aging. Engage in stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation, or spending time in nature. Chronic stress leads to the release of cortisol, a hormone that breaks down collagen and contributes to premature aging. By managing your stress levels, you can protect your skin from the inside out, slowing down the deepening of those nasolabial folds. Plus, reducing stress can have a positive impact on your overall well-being, leaving you feeling more relaxed and confident.

The Psychology of Nasolabial Folds

Let’s talk about something that often gets overlooked when discussing what nasolabial folds are: the psychological aspect. Our society places a high value on youthful appearance, and this can make some people feel self-conscious about their nasolabial folds.

But here’s a perspective shift for you: nasolabial folds are often called laugh lines or smile lines for a reason. They’re a sign of a life well-lived, full of laughter and joy. Instead of seeing them as a flaw, we can choose to see them as a testament to our experiences and emotions.

That being said, if your nasolabial folds are affecting your self-esteem, it’s okay to explore treatment options. The key is to make decisions based on what makes you feel confident and comfortable, not external pressures. Remember, beauty is subjective, and what matters most is how you feel about yourself.

FAQs about what are nasolabial folds

How do you get rid of nasolabial folds?

While you can’t completely “get rid” of nasolabial folds as they’re a natural part of facial anatomy, you can reduce their appearance. Options include dermal fillers, skin resurfacing treatments, and in some cases, surgical procedures like facelifts. Maintaining a good skincare routine, staying hydrated, and protecting your skin from sun damage can also help manage their appearance.

What causes nasolabial folds?

Nasolabial folds are caused by a combination of factors. These include natural aging processes like loss of skin elasticity and fat redistribution, repeated facial expressions, sun damage, smoking, and genetics. As we age, our skin produces less collagen and elastin, which can make these folds more pronounced.

At what age do you get nasolabial folds?

Everyone has nasolabial folds from birth, but they typically become more noticeable with age. Some people might start noticing more prominent nasolabial folds in their 20s or 30s, while for others, it might not be until their 40s or 50s. The rate at which nasolabial folds deepen varies greatly from person to person based on genetics, lifestyle factors, and skincare habits.

What’s the difference between nasolabial fold and marionette lines?

While both are facial lines that become more prominent with age, they’re located in different areas. Nasolabial folds run from the sides of the nose to the corners of the mouth. Marionette lines, on the other hand, extend from the corners of the mouth down to the chin. Marionette lines often give a downturned appearance to the mouth, while nasolabial folds are more associated with the cheek area.


So, what are nasolabial folds? They’re more than just lines on our face. They’re a natural part of our anatomy, a reflection of our expressions, and a testament to our life experiences. While it’s normal to be concerned about their appearance as they deepen with age, it’s important to remember that they’re a universal feature of the human face.

Whether you choose to embrace your nasolabial folds or seek treatments to minimize their appearance, the most important thing is to make choices that make you feel confident and comfortable in your own skin. After all, true beauty comes from self-acceptance and the joy we bring to the world – and that’s something no wrinkle can diminish.

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