How to Treat Signs of Aging Skin

The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It acts as a protective barrier from external threats such as chemicals, temperatures, and bacteria. The skin is also home to nerve receptors that give the body the ability to feel touch, and it helps control fluid and electrolyte balance.

When a person is born, their skin is often soft, smooth, and thin. This makes young skin more vulnerable to irritants and inflammation. As a person grows up, their skin becomes thicker and rougher. It continues to change with the years, thinning out and losing strength and elasticity over time, and blood vessels in the skin begin to weaken as well. The skin also gradually loses melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin color, and it could become pale or translucent in some areas.

Although age is a big factor in the changes we see in our skin, other lifestyle factors such as diet, environmental exposure, genetics, and sun exposure can also play a role in how our skin changes. The good news is there are many ways a person can protect their skin and have youthful-looking skin for a long time.

Young woman with photo of aged eye over her own

Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

Dry Skin

When there isn’t enough moisture in the layers of the skin, it becomes dry. The medical term for dry skin is xerosis. Patches of dry skin often feel rough. They may also appear scaly or flake off in places, especially if they are scratched. There are many different kinds of dry skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.

Causes

Most of the time, dry skin is not serious and can be restored through proper moisturizing and hydration practices. It is typically caused by either hot or cold weather, low air moisture, and prolonged soaking in hot water. Using excessive amounts of soap, perfume, or antiperspirant has also been shown to exacerbate dry skin.

Aging also plays a role because as the skin ages, the oil glands produce less oil. The parts of the body that are most likely to experience dry skin are the elbows, arms, and legs.

Other causes of dry skin include dehydration, overexposure to the sun, smoking, or high stress levels. Some health conditions have been shown to cause or be associated with dry skin, including diabetes and kidney disease.

Some people may also experience dry skin because of the medications they are taking. For older adults, dry skin can lead to pruritus, which is chronic itchy skin.

Prevention

Dry skin can be easily prevented. Since it is more common in older adults, those who are older may need to be more mindful of keeping their skin as hydrated as possible.

According to dermatologists, the best ways to avoid dry skin include:

  • Shower and bathe to help limit the worsening of dry skin: To do this, you can close the bathroom door, use warm water instead of hot water, take only five- to 10-minute showers or baths at a time, use a fragrance-free and gentle cleanser, avoid a thick lather, and blot skin with a towel instead of rubbing it to dry.
  • Moisturize immediately after drying off: To trap existing moisture in the skin, you’ll need to put lotion on within minutes of showering or washing your face or hands.
  • Consider ointments or creams: Lotions will still help to lock in moisture, but ointments and creams are more effective at getting the job done. Ingredients that work well include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, shea butter, and mineral oil.
  • Use gentle products that are fragrance-free: Some products may contain harsh ingredients that are not good for dry skin. By using a gentle product, it can help lock in moisture better without causing any irritation.
  • Use a humidifier: Since the lack of moisture in the air can cause dry skin, using a humidifier could help to restore moisture in the air and thus help restore moisture in the body.

Treatments

Ensure that the body is properly hydrated by getting adequate fluid intake throughout the day. Practicing the prevention steps above on a daily basis will also help treat dry skin if you already have it.

Research has shown that for those with very dry skin, moisturizer alone may not be enough. Using a serum could help give the skin the boost it needs to maintain moisture and avoid dryness. For those with excessively dry skin, other interventions such as regular facials and body treatments may help.

Wrinkles

Wrinkles are a natural part of the aging process. Dynamic wrinkles develop after repeat facial expressions. Smile lines are an example of dynamic wrinkles. They can also appear as frown lines or concentration lines.

Fine lines are much smaller and shallower than dynamic wrinkles, and typically appear around the eyes and mouth because they are parts of the face that move the most when making facial expressions.

Causes

Folds in the skin develop over time because as a person ages, their skin begins to produce less collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are proteins that are found in the skin, and they make up the supporting structure of the skin and give it its shape and texture. Collagen makes up most of the skin, roughly 75% to 80% of the skin on the body.

The skin also contains keratin. It makes up hair, nails, and the surface layer of the skin known as the epidermis. When keratin level is low, the skin becomes more susceptible to wrinkles. Age is a natural driver of the loss of keratin, but other factors such as abrasive soaps or shampoos, sun exposure, and exposure to harsh chemicals can all lead to keratin loss. 

Prevention

Although genetics play a large role in how the skin ages, some lifestyle factors can be mitigated to help slow the onset of wrinkles.

Avoiding sun exposure or always wearing sunscreen can greatly decrease wrinkle development. Using a cream or lotion with retinoids could also help keep the skin wrinkle-free longer. This is because retinol, or vitamin A, can increase collagen production.

Diet can further be a key factor. Those who eat vitamin-rich diets tend to have younger- and healthier-looking skin for longer than those who do not. The complete avoidance of some habits such as smoking, stress, and pollution can also help slow the onset of wrinkles.  

Treatments

There are many treatments that can help minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

Microdermabrasion is one medical treatment that can be used to reduce wrinkles by essentially sanding the top layer of skin using microscopic crystals. It works best on fine lines and is unlikely to have any effect on deep or dynamic wrinkles.

Many creams containing vitamin A, vitamin E, antioxidants, and alpha-hydroxy acids have also been shown to drastically improve the look of aging on both fine lines and dynamic wrinkles.  

Botox is a highly sought treatment for wrinkles. It is done by injecting botulinum toxin into the skin, which paralyzes facial muscles that can cause wrinkles. Botox is not a permanent solution, however, and people who get it will need to have regular treatments to see continued results.

Fillers made from either collagen or hyaluronic acid are also used to help increase volume in the skin, thus flattening out the wrinkles.

Age Spots

Age spots, also known as sun or liver spots, are areas of the skin where pigment has changed. They appear darker than the skin surrounding them and are typically found on the face, hands, shoulders, and arms. They can range in color from light brown to black and are quite varied in size.

Causes

Overexposure to the sun can lead to age spots. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight can stimulate melanocytes, which accelerates the production of melanin, and over time that exposure leads to age spots.

They are one of the most common skin changes during the aging process. Those who have lighter skin and a history of sunburns are at higher risk of developing these spots.

Age spots pose no health threat. Given that they aren’t typically a health issue, many people have them removed or treated solely for cosmetic reasons. 

Prevention

To prevent age spots, staying out of the sun when it is the most intense, usually between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., can help. Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 should be used at all times during sun exposure.

Covering up exposed areas of the skin as much as possible with clothing, hats, or an umbrella will also help prevent the spots from developing.

Treatments

Once the age spots are there, treating them can be difficult, and typically involves creams and ointments or professional procedures. The creams and lotions used are skin-lightening products. Some can be dangerous or contain high levels of mercury, so it’s important to speak to a dermatologist for a recommendation that’s safe and right for you.

Some procedures that can be used to help treat age spots include:

  • Laser treatment: This treatment works on age spots by targeting the darker skin cells and killing them. The skin cells then make their way to the top layer of skin and flake off.
  • Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy uses freezing as a way to injure the skin cells. When the injured cells eventually heal, they appear lighter than they were prior to treatment.
  • Microdermabrasion: This procedure works by essentially smoothing away the top layer of skin, removing the age spots. 
  • Chemical peeling: During this procedure, a chemical solution is applied to the skin that will remove the outer layer. The new skin that forms is smoother and lighter.

Who Are Chemical Peels Good For?

Fair-skinned and light-haired people are better candidates for chemical peels.

Skin Tags

Skin tags are growths that most often appear on the neck, under the arms, in the groin area, under the breasts, under the buttocks, or on the eyelids. They range in size from mere millimeters up to 5 cm, and are soft and skin-colored. They tend to hang off the skin and are painless.

The tags are made up of collagen fibers and blood vessels, and are surrounded by a layer of skin. Skin tags are more commonly found in older adults and those who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes.

Causes

Although the exact cause of skin tags isn’t clear, their formation could be attributed to friction. There may be a connection between skin tags and the human papillomavirus (HPV), and also a connection between the development of skin tags in those with insulin resistance.

Prevention

In the case of skin tags associated with obesity and diabetes, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly may be helpful in lessening the risk of developing the tags.

In areas where the skin folds rub together such as the underarms, keeping them dry may help. Areas with folds and lots of moisture tend to experience friction. It may also be helpful to avoid any irritants or tight-fitted clothing.

Treatments

Removing skin tags is the only way to treat them. Talk to your doctor about the best way to remove your skin tags.

Much like warts, skin tags can be removed using the burning or freezing method, in which the growth is burnt or frozen off. It may also be removed surgically. Freezing and burning don’t typically require a local anesthetic as surgery does, but there is a chance that the freeze or burn method won’t work and re-treatment may be needed.

Small skin tags that are hanging on to the skin by a very narrow base may be removed at home, but only after your doctor has signed off on it. Your doctor may suggest ligation, which is tying off the skin tag to cut off blood supply, causing it to drop off itself.

Bruises

Bruises are patches of skin discoloration that occur when capillaries, which are tiny blood vessels, are broken. When they break, blood from the vessels bursts out into the soft tissue underneath the top layer of skin.

Bruises feel tender or swollen to the touch. They create bluish or purple-colored patches on fair skin, and dark purple, brownish, or black patches on darker skin. Bruises will go away on their own because the body eventually reabsorbs the blood that causes the discoloration.

Older adults bruise more easily because when the skin thins, there is less protection for the capillaries. When bruises become chronic, they are referred to as dermatoporosis.

There are several different types of bruises:

  • Hematoma: This type of bruise is caused by major trauma. The result from this type of bruise extends past bruising and into skin and tissue damage. It is accompanied by pain and swelling.
  • Purpura: This is a common type of bruising and can occur from minor injuries such as bumping into something, underlying conditions, or use of certain medications.
  • Petechiae: When there are small, pinpoint red-colored dots on the skin that do not turn white after applying pressure, they are referred to as petechiae.
  • Senile purpura: This is a form of purpura that occurs in older adults.

Causes

Bruises are caused by injury to the skin. Bruising can also occur following medical procedures such as a surgery or injection. Some medications may also make it more likely for a person to get bruises, such as blood thinners or corticosteroids.

Some bleeding disorders could also lead to an increased risk for bruising that isn’t related to any trauma or injury. Some conditions that could lead to bruising include:

Prevention

Bruises can be hard to avoid because the injuries that are sustained to cause them are typically accidents. To prevent injuries that may lead to bruising, you could keep walking areas clear of debris, keep furniture away from walkways, turn on a light when walking through your house, and wear protective gear while participating in contact sports or other activities that could lead to injuries.

Treatments

Treating a bruise isn’t always necessary because it tends to go away on its own in a matter of weeks. There are ways to decrease the length of time a bruise may stick around, though.

Using a cold compress can help reduce the size of the bruise following an injury. This decreases the amount of leaked blood. Be advised, however, that the cold compress also has the ability to reduce inflammation or swelling, which could make a bruise look worse than it is.

While using a cold compress, make sure to separate the compress from the skin using a thin towel, and only leave it on for 15 minutes. You should also try to keep the bruise elevated above your heart. This will help prevent the blood from pooling, thus reducing the size of the bruise.

Drooping Eyelids

When eyelids begin to droop with age, it is known as blepharoptosis or ptosis. Drooping eyelids occur when the upper eyelids fall over the eye or lower than they should. In some cases, the drooping can become so severe that it covers the eye and causes vision problems.

Causes

There are a few different causes of drooping eyelids, one of which is aging. As a person grows older, the levator muscle—the muscle responsible for lifting the eyelid—begins to stretch. This can cause the eyelid to droop.

Aging isn’t the only thing that can cause a drooping eyelid, though, and it can occur in people of all ages.

Some other causes of a drooping eyelid include:

  • Weakness in the muscle that is supposed to raise the eyelid
  • Nerve damage
  • Skin looseness of the upper eyelids
  • Can be present at birth

The condition can also be caused by these conditions:

Prevention

There is no way to prevent drooping eyelids. In terms of other causes such as diabetes or stroke, reducing the risk for these conditions could be helpful in reducing the risk of drooping eyelids.   

Treatments

Depending on the cause of drooping eyelids, treatments may vary. Those who wish to improve the look of their eyelids may opt for cosmetic surgery. Typically, a doctor will only suggest surgery as a treatment option if the eyelid is affecting vision. However, surgery is the first-line treatment for ptosis caused by aging.

Glasses with a form of crutch may also be used to treat the condition, although they are only useful when one wears the glasses. These are known as ptosis eye crutches.  

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, also referred to as solar keratosis, is a skin condition that appears as rough and scaly patches, most often found on the lips, ears, forearms, scalp, neck, face, or back of the hands. It typically only appears in people over the age of 40.

The patches can be varied in color. The most common colors are brown, gray, tan, and pink.

Actinic keratosis is considered a precancerous condition because a small portion of the lesions can turn into skin cancer, specifically squamous cell carcinoma. Roughly 58 million adults have actinic keratosis, and it is the most commonly found skin precancer.

Causes

The main cause of actinic keratosis is long-term exposure to the sun. Some factors can increase the risk of developing the condition in addition to overexposure, including:

  • Hair color: Those with blonde or red hair have a higher risk than those with dark-colored hair of having actinic keratosis.
  • Eye color: People with blue or green eyes will also have a higher risk of developing actinic keratosis.
  • Complexion: Light complexions are more sensitive to sun exposure and therefore are at an increased risk of the condition.
  • Sunburns: People who have frequent sunburns throughout their life have more sun damage than those who don’t, making the risk for developing actinic keratosis higher.
  • Weakened immune system: People with immunodeficiencies caused by an illness or treatment are also more susceptible to having actinic keratosis.

Prevention

Since actinic keratosis is caused by overexposure to harmful UV rays, the best way to prevent the condition from developing is by limiting exposure to these rays as much as possible. This can be done by applying sunscreen anytime you’re outside.

Sunscreen should also be reapplied every two hours. The best sunscreen to use is a broad-spectrum one with an SPF of at least 30. It will help block out both UVA and UVB rays.

Also, avoid the sun during midday, typically between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is strongest. If you cannot avoid the sun, wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats can also help protect your skin. You can also be exposed to harmful UV rays by using tanning beds, which have been shown to increase the risk of developing actinic keratosis.

Treatment

The treatment of actinic keratosis will depend on a couple of different factors, such as how many are on the body and what they look like. The main type of treatment that a doctor may recommend is the removal of the skin patches.

All patches of actinic keratosis should be treated because they can progress to squamous cell carcinoma. In some cases, if the patches are left untreated, the squamous cell carcinoma could become invasive and thus life threatening.

Therapies most often used to remove actinic keratosis include:

  • Cryotherapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Curettage (surgical scraping of the patches)
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Chemical peels

Some doctors may recommend at-home treatments for patches that are more difficult to see or less pronounced. These types of treatments are generally creams that can be applied to the area. The creams most often used to treat actinic keratosis include:

  • Fluorac (fluorouracil)
  • Zyclara or Aldara (imiquimod skin cream)
  • Picato (ingenol mebutate)
  • Voltaren (diclofenac)

Voltaren should only be used if a doctor specifically recommends it.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer happens when skin cells begin to grow uncontrollably. There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma: This type of skin cancer occurs in the basal cells of the skin and is the most common form of skin cancer.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Occurring in the squamous cells of the skin, this type of cancer is the second most common.
  • Melanoma: This type of skin cancer occurs in melanocytes, the cells that give skin its pigment. It is the least common form of skin cancer.

Although skin cancer can develop in people of all ages, it is more prevalent in older adults.

Causes

The most notable cause of skin cancer is exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Other causes include chronic exposure to X-rays, scars from a disease or a burn, and exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

The cause of melanoma isn’t always UV rays since it can develop in areas that aren’t exposed to sunlight. Sometimes having severe burns as a child can lead to the development of skin cancer as an adult.

Prevention

Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

If you are going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, the sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 30 and be water resistant. Reapplication of sunscreen should take place every two hours or directly after swimming.

You should also avoid tanning outside in the sun and in tanning beds. The sun’s rays are strongest midday, so it’s important to stay in the shade as much as possible during this time.

If you can, cover up as much skin as possible with clothing, a hat, and sunglasses that block out UV light. Avoid sunburns as much as possible. You should also keep a close eye on any moles on the body and examine yourself for any new and changing moles every month.

Treatments

Treatment for skin cancer varies depending on the type and stage of the disease. The most common treatments include:

Check your skin once a month for possible signs of cancer such as new growths, sores that don’t heal, or moles that bleed.

A Word From Verywell

The aging of the skin comes with getting older. It can be difficult to acknowledge that getting older brings higher risks for certain age-related skin diseases or undesirable skin changes, but there are things you can do to help keep your skin young and healthy for as long as possible.

One of the most important things you can do to protect your skin is to avoid too much sun exposure. Be sure to wear sunscreen and clothing, hats, or sunglasses to shield your skin from the harmful UV rays when you are outside.

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