What Is Thin Skin?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Thin skin is a result of thinning of the outermost layer of the skin, called the epidermis. It is most common in older adults and is most visible on the face, arms, and hands. A person with thin skin may find that they are able to see the veins, tendons, bones, and capillaries under the skin of their hands and arms. 

While no treatment can completely reverse the process of thin skin caused by aging, some measures may help promote healthy skin, lessening the symptoms.

older hands with thin skin

Dean Mitchell / Getty Images

Symptoms of Thin Skin

Common symptoms of thin skin include:

  • Skin that appears thin, dry, or transparent
  • Skin that tears or bleeds easily
  • Atrophic (thinning) of the top layers of the skin
  • Bruising—commonly found on the forearms—after very minor trauma
  • Whitish, irregular-shaped, or star-shaped areas often seen on the back of the hand and the forearm caused by exposure to light and/or prolonged use of topical steroid creams

Causes

The primary cause of thin skin (due to aging) is changes of the skin that occur as part of the aging process, these include:

  • The breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers (often caused by ultraviolet sunlight)
  • Damage to the small capillaries near the surface of the skin, causing the skin to bruise easily
  • Shrinkage of the cells that make up the layers of the skin
  • Thinning of the fatty layer of tissue under the skin
  • Menopause (resulting in the decrease in estrogen levels)

Factors that increase the risk of thin skin include:

  • Genetics
  • Long-term exposure to sunlight
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Mobility impairment
  • Long term use of certain medications, such as topical or oral cortisone creams

Treatment

Although there is no cure for the normal aging process that causes the skin to become thin, there are some preventative measures, as well as medical treatments in the form of certain types of skin cream that can help alleviate the symptoms.

Prevention is the primary treatment modality for thin skin, which includes protecting the skin from the sun.

At-Home Treatment

Measures to protect thin skin from cuts and tears include:

  • Wearing long sleeves and long pants to protect the skin from the sun
  • Wearing double layers to protect the skin from tearing when working outside
  • Applying rolled gauze bandages under clothing for skin that is very fragile to protect it from tearing
  • Using at least 30 SPF sunscreen when outdoors
  • Keeping the skin well moisturized

Prevention

Many factors speed up the aging process of the skin, thus, potentiating thin skin. These risk factors can include environmental factors (such as sun exposure) as well as internal changes in the body, like hormone level fluctuations. Risk factors include:

  • Sun exposure (ultraviolet light, which causes changes in the DNA of skin cells)
  • Artificial sources of UV light (such as tanning beds)
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Genetics
  • Smoking
  • Menopause

Nutrition for Skin Health

Nutrition is thought to impact the process of aging of the skin, which, in turn may help to slow the process of thin skin due to aging.

Studies on nutrition and skin health have shown that a healthy diet may decrease wrinkling, atrophy (shrinkage), and dryness of the skin. Examples of foods thought to promote skin health include:

  • Vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Wild-caught, cold-water fish
  • Legumes
  • Fresh, whole fruits
  • Limiting or eliminating foods such as sugar, dairy products, and margarine
  • A diet lower in fat and carbohydrates
  • Foods or supplements with vitamin A
  • Fish oil supplement

Medical Treatment

Thin skin that results from aging is a condition that does not usually require medical attention, but under some circumstances, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider, including:

  • Having very dry, itchy, irritated skin
  • Experiencing pain or discomfort that is not alleviated with preventative measures
  • Having skin that tears open very easily
  • Noticing any type of drainage, reddened or painful skin that will not heal (which may be signs of skin infection)

Retinol cream with vitamin A is thought to be effective in the treatment of thin skin. In fact, according to a 2018 study, topical retinoids are a mainstay in reversing thin skin. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider about the use of a topical retinol.

A Word From Verywell

There are many health and wellness challenges that surface as a person ages. It’s important to learn what is normal aging, and what constitutes intervention, such as a visit to the healthcare provider.

Learning how to take care of your skin—and what causes premature aging of the skin—can enable you to take measures to begin protecting your skin before complications arise that require medical intervention. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ghosh S, Jain V. “Pseudo” nomenclature in dermatology: What′s in a name? Indian J Dermatol. 2013;58(5):369. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.117305

  2. National Institute on Aging. Skin care and aging. Updated October 1, 2017.

  3. DermNet NZ. Skin aging. Updated June 2018.

  4. Dyer, J. Miller, R. Chronic Skin Fragility of Aging. Current concepts in the pathogenesis, recognition, and management of dermatoporosis. J Clin aesthet Dermatol. 2018 Jan: 11 (1): 13- 18.