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What Causes Thin Skin + How to Address It

What Causes Thin Skin + How to Address It

While a more youthful appearance is often traded for a little extra wisdom, watching our skin change with age can impact our confidence.

Thin skin is a common concern as we get older, but what causes thin skin? How can you care for it best? 

We're here to help you understand the causes of thin skin and what you can do to keep it looking and feeling healthy, no matter your age.

Skin anatomy 101

First, let’s have a little anatomy lesson. Your skin is comprised of three layers — the hypodermis, dermis and epidermis. 

The hypodermis (also known as subcutaneous tissue) is the innermost layer of the skin. It's comprised of blood vessels, connective tissue, fat and nerves. Without the hypodermic layer, the skin would rub against the bones and cause damage to the body. 

Above the hypodermis is the middle layer of the skin — the dermis. In addition to blood vessels, connective tissue and nerve endings, the dermis is home to hair follicles and various glands (including sebum and sweat glands). 

However, most crucially for skin care and maintenance, the dermis contains collagen — arguably the body's most important (and prevalent) protein — as well as elastin.

And finally, the top layer of skin is the epidermis, the layer we can see with our naked eye. The epidermis is made up of five sublayers, including the stratum corneum, or what we know as the moisture barrier. 

When functioning optimally, the epidermis helps keep moisture inside the skin, preventing external elements from getting in and causing short-term and long-term damage. 

What causes thin skin?

Common causes of skin thinning and increasingly fragile skin include age and lifestyle factors. Learning about them can help you identify the core issues impacting your skin. Two of the most common factors are the natural aging process and sun exposure. 

The aging process

The body's natural aging process is the number one contributing factor to thinning skin. As we age, collagen production significantly slows down — and eventually, we start losing collagen, too. 

With less collagen being produced in the dermis, the skin starts to appear less and less firm and youthful. Collagen loss ultimately leads to the tell-tale crepey skin many older adults deal with. 

Remember, the skin is the body’s largest organ. Just like our heart, kidneys and liver don’t work as efficiently as we age, the skin also slowly breaks down over time. 

Sun exposure

Sun exposure can also play a role in premature thinning of the skin. The culprit of both short-term and long-term sun-related damage is ultraviolet rays. Yes, the sun can feel amazing on our skin, but chronic, unprotected sun exposure can trigger the release of dangerous free radicals. 

How do I address the causes of thin skin?

Treatment options for thinning skin will depend on identifying the causes of your specific issues, but here are a few things to keep in mind. 

Stimulate collagen production

While we can’t stop the aging process, we can implement measures to help slow it down and keep as much collagen in the skin as possible. 

One of the most crucial ways to support collagen production is by providing your skin with the hydration it needs to be healthy and strong. The outer layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum (moisture barrier), needs moisture to do its job. 

Skin care products that include active ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin A (retinol) and vitamin C are especially good at supporting hydration, healing and skin cell turnover.

Collagen-boosting treatments, like microneedling, can also help maintain existing collagen and trigger the body to produce additional collagen. Through safely creating micro-wounds on the skin (specifically to the dermal layer), the body reacts by sending additional collagen-producing cells to the area.

Always use sunscreen

UV rays are one of the most significant contributors to skin thinning and other age-related concerns (including an increased risk of developing skin cancer). Wearing sunscreen helps counteract those risks, especially when you wear it daily. 

When selecting a sunscreen, follow FDA and dermatologist-recommended guidelines. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that protects against UVA and UVB rays and is water-resistant. 

In addition to preventing UV damage that can cause thinning skin, sunscreen has other crucial advantages. You can also decrease your risk of sun damage by wearing long sleeves, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat when out in the sun. 

Switching from tanning beds or laying out in the sun to a sunless tanning lotion is also a good idea. 

Counteract skin aging with dermal filler

If the signs of aging and a loss of skin elasticity and thickness are apparent enough, using dermal fillers (like Juvederm and Restylane) can help counteract that visibility. When injected just under the skin — into the dermal layer — filler helps to promote a more firm, youthful appearance in only a few minutes. 

Although there are a few temporary side effects, like redness and bruising, dermal fillers last between six and 12 months and provide an immediately obvious benefit to the appearance. 

To summarize…

Identifying which factors — the aging process, excessive ultraviolet radiation from the sun, tobacco smoke or even just the lack of a supportive skin care routine — may be causing your skin not to look its best is the first step to addressing thin skin. 

Once you have an understanding of those factors, you can more strategically build routines and habits to counteract them. We'd love to create a customized skin care plan for you — schedule a consultation today!

Peer review

This article was medically reviewed by Chelsie Rogers, PA-C, a board-certified physician assistant with 6 years of experience in cosmetic dermatology.

SOURCES:

Anatomy, Skin (Integument), Epidermis | PubMed

Skin gets thinner as people age | UCLA Health

Sun and Skin | NIH News in Health

Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun | FDA

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