How does my age affect my skin's health?

By: Susan Sentry

A multitude of skin problems can result from aging.
A multitude of skin problems can result from aging.

As you approach your older years, no matter how young you might feel at heart, your skin probably isn't feeling as youthful as it once did.

As you age, your skin loses its elasticity and strength because your body produces less of the proteins collagen and elastin with each passing year. Collagen gives your skin its firmness and strength, which in turn helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles. Elastin, as the name suggests, is responsible for giving your skin its bounciness or elasticity. As elastin loses its ability to spring back into shape, your skin will wrinkle and droop [source: WebMD].


But that's not all. The outer layer of your skin -- the epidermis -- thins out as you get older, and you have fewer but larger melanocytes [source: University of Maryland Medical Center]. Melanocytes are the cells that produce pigment, giving you that vibrant and youthful look, so your skin will look paler and more translucent as you lose them. You might also notice darker patches, often known as age spots or the misnomer "liver spots," appearing on skin that has been exposed to sun over the years.

And if you notice that your skin is flakier and itchier, you're not alone. Because the epidermis holds less water in older skin, dryness is a common problem in aging, especially around elbows, lower arms and lower legs. Applying heavier moisturizers will help, as will bathing less frequently and using warm instead of hot water. Be especially careful and kind to your skin if you live in a dry climate [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Aging also increases your chances of experiencing problems with your skin. These problems don't necessarily affect your skin's health, although they could be signaling another problem.

If you want to learn more about how signs of aging on your skin may be warning signs about your health, continue reading on the next page.

Aging Skin Health

Bruises and cuts aren't just for kids, but they probably healed faster when you were younger. You might look at your leg or arm and notice bruises that you don't remember getting and that seem to take forever to heal. You might notice that you bleed more easily, too. As you age, the blood vessels of the dermis, the middle layer of skin that contains the collagen and elastin, damage much more easily than when you were younger. And, because your skin is thinner, it is more delicate and will tear more easily. Your cells replace themselves more slowly, so it's best to clean and protect your wounds to avoid infection [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Another result of aging is the thinning of fatty tissue in the subcutaneous layer of skin. This fat provides protective padding and helps your body maintain its temperature. If you are not careful, you can experience hypothermia. The fatty layer also absorbs some medications, so ask your doctor what effects aging may have on any prescription medication you take [source: University of Maryland Medical Center].


If you like being outdoors in the sun, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30) and a wide-brimmed hat. Reduced elasticity and sun discoloration can give you a leathery look. That same look can also show up as the result of sun damage from your younger days that doesn't always appear until you're older.

The sun isn't the only culprit of aging skin. Smoking also tops the list because it can give your skin a yellowish tint and deep, creased wrinkles.

If your face tends to hold the same expression -- like a worried furrow or a constant smile -- remember that facial expressions as well as facial exercises can cause more fine lines and wrinkles [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Even sleeping with your face on the pillow in the same position for years can eventually lead to wrinkles.

Aging is an inevitable part of life, as are the signs of it on your skin -- for most people. To learn more about aging skin and how to protect it, keep reading to find more links and articles on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Causes of Aging Skin." American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Mature Skin." (Accessed Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Skin Cancer Foundation. "The Ugly Duckling Sign: An Early Melanoma Recognition Tool." (Accessed Oct. 2, 2009)
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. "Aging Changes in Skin -- Overview." Aug. 10, 2008. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Skin Conditions: Understanding Your Skin." July 29, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)