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The Surprising Change In Your Skin That Happens After Age 50

The good news: you can treat the woes of this condition.

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Owen Bruce/Trunk Archive
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Thin-skinned is not a term I would ever use to describe myself. Yet since turning 50 (and undoubtedly several years before that), my skin has decided otherwise, leaning heavily into the literal interpretation of the phrase. As I’ve learned, age not only brings wrinkles but also thinning skin that bruises easily.

Though the damage might occur when I bump or scratch my arm, most comes from companion animals. I have a cat and two dogs. I walk dogs weekly at my local shelter and foster through a golden retriever rescue. That means my hands and arms are in constant contact with paws, and when their nails land on my skin, I often wind up with dark red splotches. My forearm skin tears easily, too, especially when their teeth accidentally catch my skin. These marks are usually temporary, disappearing after a few weeks, but they take a toll on my psyche, as they’re an ugly reminder that my body’s aging.

If that sounds familiar, there’s good news. There are ways to maintain — or prevent if you have yet to experience this aging crisis — and treat the woes of thin skin.

What causes skin to thin

No doubt you’ve heard about osteoporosis, but how about dermatoporosis? It’s new to me, too. “Dermatoporosis essentially represents normal aging plus chronic skin damage leading to actinic purpura, skin thinning and skin fragility,” says Dr. Anar Mikailov, a board-certified dermatologist in Rochester, NY, and co-founder of Skintensive. One of the most noticeable changes is bruising.

There are others. They include increased transparency due to the thinning of your skin’s surface layer, known as the epidermis, reduced elasticity (hello, sagging), longer healing times for cuts and bruises, skin appearing with a “cigarette paper” consistency, and pigment changes like freckles and sunspots, says Dr. Dusan Sajic, a board-certified dermatologist in Ontario, Canada, and founder of Sajic Skin Science.

These changes become noticeable around the age of 40, though they can start in your late 20s if you use tanning beds, says Dr. Mikailov. And while aging affects everybody, factors like genetics, sun exposure, nutrition and overall health often determine how quickly these changes manifest, adds Dr. Sajic.

So, what causes these changes? There are two things. According to Dr. Mikailov, “a combination of sun-induced (or ultraviolet) radiation plus age-related collagen loss leads to this thinning with capillary vessel fragility.” Collagen, as well as elastin, is a protein that helps maintain your skin’s thickness and elasticity.

Because those tiny vessels lie in the superficial layers of your skin, UV radiation easily penetrates them and degrades support structures around them. The result is that your skin can no longer tolerate what it once did when you were younger. “The damaged vessels are much less resilient even to gentle pressure, leading to small amounts of blood leaking into the surrounding superficial skin,” Dr. Mikailov says. Your skin will then appear bruised, purplish and/or rust-brown, a phenomenon known as actinic or senile purpura. Medications like blood thinners and steroids can exacerbate this.

While skin thinning can happen anywhere on your body, certain parts are more vulnerable. Because they’re most exposed to the sun’s rays, the face, neck, backs of hands and forearms show signs sooner, he adds.

How to prevent and strengthen thinning skin

You can’t reverse the aging process, but you can act to maintain your skin health so that thinning skin doesn’t get the best of you. For starters, if you haven’t yet adopted a daily year-round sunscreen habit, do it now. “Sun protection will minimize, if not eliminate, the second component of dermatoporosis,” Dr. Mikailov says. Wear clothing with sun protection, too.

Then, apply skin creams that moisturize and repair collagen. “Your skin barrier needs your help, so infusing your skin with powerful antioxidants, collagen stimulants and moisture is important,” Dr. Mikailov says. Look for daily moisturizing creams with ingredients like ceramide, plant oils and butters for their essential fatty acids, antioxidants to reduce free radical damage, and collagen-stimulating ingredients like sea buckthorn berry, bakuchiol and retinol.

Also, make sure you’re eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, which will support your skin’s health. Those antioxidants are especially critical in preventing damage to your skin. Although vitamin C has always been the poster child for this, there’s an even more powerful antioxidant called hydroxytyrosol found in olives and olive oil. “It’s 700 times more powerful than vitamin C and less susceptible to degradation,” Dr. Sajic says. Numerous skin care products now contain it.

If you’re already dealing with thinning skin, you need to level up your skin care regimen. Dr. Mikailov says to start by wearing skin-guard fabrics (like socks for your forearms) in situations where trauma to your skin might occur.

Then, look for skin creams with a combination of retinaldehyde and hyaluronate fragments. “These have been shown in recent studies to perhaps be the best strategy to reverse skin thinning,” Dr. Sajic says, adding that peptides, namely copper tripeptide, take it a step further.

Arnica montana, a well-studied natural remedy used for centuries, is another ingredient to look for. “Arnica montana contains compounds like helenalin that help reduce inflammation, which is often a primary symptom of bruising,” adds Dr. Mikailov. Arnica has also been shown to stimulate blood circulation, further aiding healing. “By promoting blood flow to the affected area, Arnica creams help deliver oxygen and nutrients necessary for tissue repair, thereby speeding up the healing time of bruises.” Arnica’s analgesic properties can help relieve pain around bruises, too.

You may even want to consider laser treatment or radio frequency microneedling for severely damaged skin. “Along with making your skin look better, these will make it more resilient,” Dr. Sajic says.

Of course, that still leaves the psychological effects. I’ve started wearing sleeved shirts to cover my unattractive arms. Concealers are another option.

More than anything, though, I’m trying to follow Dr. Sajic’s advice to embrace these changes as part of my life journey – and a tribute to the animals: “Every mark on our skin tells the story of our experiences.”

If that’s the case, then mine can sure bark, er, speak.

Is your skin thinning? What do you do about it? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Lifestyle