When you were younger, you may have had smooth, flawless skin. Now you look at your children, and you see that skin you remember from your youth on their faces and bodies. But when you look in the mirror, signs that your skin is aging are starting to show.
What is it about aging that causes our skin to change? And what can we do to help keep our skin looking young and healthy? We turned to Neychelle Rocca, MD, a Banner Health internal medicine specialist in Phoenix, AZ, for answers.
How does your skin change as you get older?
As you age, your skin becomes thinner, drier, less resilient, discolored and less able to tolerate changes in heat. You’ll probably notice wrinkles and saggy skin. You may find your skin is more rough, dry, loose and prone to bruising, and you may develop skin tags or warts.
You also might not sense touch, pressure, vibration, heat and cold as well as you age, so you could be at higher risk for injuring your skin.
What’s behind the changes in aging skin?
There are a few different factors that are behind the changes you see in your skin as you get older:
- The aging process. Your collagen levels change as you get older, and you lose some of the protective fat layer that lies underneath your skin – that’s part of the reason you get wrinkles.
- Sun damage. Sunlight worsens the changes in your collagen levels, and the ultraviolet light in sunlight damages your elastin fibers, which can cause your skin to sag, stretch and lose its ability to snap back. This change is called elastosis, and it’s more noticeable in sun-exposed areas. Sunlight also leads to age spots or liver spots, often on the face or the backs of the hands. “Exposure to sunlight is the single biggest culprit in aging skin,” Dr. Rocca said.
- Fragile blood vessels. As you get older, the blood vessels that feed your skin become more fragile, and you might notice bruising, bleeding under the skin or benign growths called cherry angiomas.
- Less oil production. Your sebaceous glands (small glands in your skin that secrete a lubicating oily matter called sebum) don’t produce as much oil as you age, so it’s harder to keep your skin moist. Your skin might feel itchy and dry.
How can you slow the signs of aging in your skin?
Since sun exposure causes most skin changes, keep your skin safe from the sun. If you don’t already have good sun-protection habits, start making these changes today:
- Prevent sunburn
- Use a good quality sunscreen when outdoors, even in the winter
- Wear protective clothing and a hat when needed
“Good nutrition and adequate fluids are also helpful,” Dr. Rocca said. Dehydration increases your risk of skin injury. And sometimes, minor nutritional deficiencies can cause rashes, skin lesions and other skin changes.
Keep your skin moist with lotions and moisturizers. “Moist skin is more comfortable and will heal more quickly if it’s injured,” Dr. Rocca said.
Steer clear of scented soaps since they can irritate your skin. Bath oils aren’t a good idea either since they can make your tub or shower slippery and lead to a fall.
Do your best to prevent injuries. Aging skin repairs itself more slowly than younger skin—up to four times slower. That makes it more likely that a wound will develop a pressure ulcer or an infection.
Be especially cautious about injuries if you’re on a blood thinner. “You need to be careful when you use knives, scissors, razors or any sharp object,” Dr. Rocca said. You also need to avoid activities and sports that could cause injury. She recommends swimming and walking as safe options.
How should people with diabetes take care of their skin?
If you have diabetes, you should avoid products that contain alcohol or are scented. Choose skincare products that do not contain alpha-hydroxy acid or retinoids because these ingredients can be too harsh on the skin if you have type 2 diabetes.
Use a rich, thick moisturizing cream or ointment and slather it on as soon as you get out of the bath or shower. That can help keep your skin hydrated to help prevent it from getting itchy and thicker and help prevent cracks and ulcers in the skin. “Cracks allow bacteria and other germs to sneak in and can lead to an infection,” Dr. Rocca said.
Dry skin can be itchy but try not to scratch. Scratching too hard can break your skin and make you prone to infection.
Keep areas like the armpits, under the breasts and the groin dry to help prevent fungal infections.
The bottom line
You can’t keep your skin from aging. But by protecting it from the sun, keeping it moisturized and avoiding injuries, you can keep it looking as young as possible.
If you would like personalized advice to help keep your skin looking young and feeling healthy, connect with a Banner Health expert.
Learn more about caring for your skin: