Special Report

15 Things That Happen to Your Skin as You Get Older

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1. It loses elasticity

As people get older, the dermis, which is the thicker and deeper layer of the skin, can lose from 20% to 80% of its thickness due to changes in the cells responsible for collagen and elastin biosynthesis. These proteins are produced at a slower rate, affecting the skin’s structure, causing it to hang loosely and become slack. Changes in elastin fibers are typical in elderly people, sometimes leading to a condition called elastosis. In solar elastosis, caused by sun damage, the skin looks yellow and can develop bumps.

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2. It takes longer to heal

Eccrine sweat glands, which secrete sweat to the skin surface to help cool a person’s body temperature, also help heal wounds. They are, in fact, a source of new cells that replace the ones lost to injury. However, this process does not work as well in older adults as it does in younger people, according to research published in Aging Cell. There are fewer new cells available to heal wounds, and they are located farther apart, resulting in a delayed healing process. The reason is not that the glands were less active, but that the degraded aging skin was less able to support the new cells.

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3. It develops benign tumors

A benign tumor is a non-malignant growth of cells, which means it does not spread. Benign tumors have been linked to ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun. Skin tags and moles are examples of benign tumors, and aging skin is more prone to developing them. Medically, they are benign proliferation of melanocytes, which are the cells that produce the protective skin-darkening pigment melanin.

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4. It becomes transparent

It is not uncommon for the skin to become more transparent in elderly people, especially in those with rheumatoid disease. Veins on the hands, wrists, ribs, and shins of elderly people can be seen through the skin. Clinical studies of biopsies found that collagen fibers, which are what keep the skin firm and looking young, are not as closely packed in transparent skin as they are in more opaque skin.

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5. It loses a protective layer of fat

The subcutaneous layer, or the inner layer of the dermis, is where the sweat glands, some hair follicles, blood vessels, and fat are found in the skin. As we age, this protective layer of fat thins, providing less insulation to the skin, and making it more fragile and susceptible to injury. Older people may therefore be more sensitive to cold, heat, and touch.