What Is Thin Skin?

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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 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 such as 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
  • Foods or supplements with vitamin A
  • Fish oil supplement

Medical Treatment

Thin skin resulting 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, or 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I speed up the healing of a bruise?

    Yes, there are some easy treatments that may help a bruise fade more quickly:

    • Elevate the bruised area to reduce swelling and pain.
    • Hold an ice pack wrapped in a towel against the bruise for 15 minutes at a time several times per day, for the first 48 hours after the bruise appeared.
    • After two days, apply a heating pad or warm compress to the bruise several times each day.
  • Are there natural remedies for thin skin?

    There isn't a natural way to reverse thin skin caused by aging. However, there is a link between nutrition and skin health, meaning skin health can be improved by following a healthy diet. The following foods are believed to promote healthy skin:

    • Fresh, whole fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Foods low in fats and carbohydrates
    • Foods or supplements with vitamin A
    • Legumes
    • Olive oil
    • Fish oil supplement
    • Cold-water fish caught in the wild
  • Does retinol thin skin?

    No, retinol does not thin skin. Multiple studies reported that topical tretinoin (Retin-A), normally used for acne treatment, can actually improve thinning skin. Some people also use it to reduce fine wrinkles, but results may vary.

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7 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.
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  2. National Institute on Aging. Skin care and aging.

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