Skin Care and Aging

How Aging Affects Skin

Your skin changes with age. It becomes thinner, loses fat, and no longer looks as plump and smooth as it once did. Your veins and bones can be seen more easily. Scratches, cuts, or bumps can take longer to heal. Years of sun tanning or being out in the sunlight for a long time may lead to wrinkles, dryness, age spots, and even cancer. But there are things you can do to protect your skin and to make it feel and look better.

Dry Skin and Itching

Many older people suffer from dry skin, often on their lower legs, elbows, and lower arms. Dry skin feels rough and scaly. There are many possible reasons for dry skin, such as

  • not drinking enough liquids
  • staying out in the sun
  • being in very dry air
  • smoking
  • feeling stress
  • losing sweat and oil glands (common with age).

Dry skin also can be caused by health problems, such as diabetes or kidney disease. Using too much soap, antiperspirant, or perfume and taking hot baths will make dry skin worse.

Because older people have thinner skin, scratching can cause bleeding that may lead to infection. Some medicines make the skin itchier. If your skin is very dry and itchy, see your doctor.

Help for Dry Skin

Moisturizers like lotions, creams, or ointments can soothe dry, itchy skin. They should be used every day. Try taking fewer baths and using milder soap to help your dry skin. Warm water is less drying than hot water. Don't add bath oil to your water -- it will make the tub too slippery. Some people find that a humidifier (an appliance that adds moisture to a room) helps.

Find more home care solutions and tips for managing dry skin.

Bruises

Older people may bruise more easily than younger people. And, it can take longer for the bruises to heal. Some medicines or illnesses may cause bruising. If you see bruises and you don't know how you got them, especially on parts of your body usually covered by clothing, see your doctor.

Wrinkles

Over time, skin begins to wrinkle. Things in the environment, like ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, make the skin less elastic. Gravity can cause skin to sag and wrinkle.

Certain habits also can wrinkle the skin. Some of these habits are easier to change than others. You may not be able to change your facial expressions, but you can quit smoking.

A lot of claims are made about how to make wrinkles go away. Not all of them work. Some can be painful or even dangerous, and many must be done by a doctor. Talk with a doctor specially trained in skin problems (a dermatologist) or your regular doctor if you are worried about wrinkles.

Age Spots and Skin Tags

Age spots, once called "liver spots," are flat, brown spots often caused by years in the sun. They are bigger than freckles, and many times show up on areas like the face, hands, arms, back, and feet. Age spots are harmless, but if they bother you, talk to a dermatologist about removing them. Also, a sunscreen may prevent more sun damage.

Skin tags are small, usually flesh-colored growths of skin that have a raised surface. They are a common occurrence as people age, especially for women. They are most often found on the eyelids, neck, and body folds such as the arm pit, chest, and groin. Skin tags are harmless, but they can become irritated. A doctor can remove them if they bother you.

See additional resources on aging skin, including information on treatment options, specific conditions, and related issues.