As skin ages, it changes, becoming dryer, rougher and more wrinkled. The rate of these changes is determined by several factors, including environment, health and genetics. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that sun exposure plays the greatest role in skin aging. Smoking and certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid problems and poor circulation, also contribute to the aging process, according to the American Geriatric Society (AGS).
Sagging and Wrinkling
Sagging skin and wrinkles on the face and body are a natural part of aging. The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center states that these skin changes occur when collagen and elastin, two components of the skin’s connective tissue, weaken and reduce the skin’s elasticity and strength. This weakening, when combined with the effects of gravity, results in sagging and wrinkling. Sun exposure and smoking hasten weakening of the skin’s connective tissues. The New Zealand Dermatological Society states that smokers have more wrinkles and fine lines than nonsmokers in the same age group.
While dry skin affects people of all ages, it is more common in older people. Dry, rough, scaly skin is more common in winter due to low environmental humidity, according to the AGS, and is made worse by hot water, frequent washing and improper skin care. The NIH states that dry skin becomes worse with age because the sebaceous glands produce less oil over time. This change is especially pronounced in women. Dry skin in older people is most common on the legs and may cause severe itching.
Older people are more prone to blotchy pigmentation and skin discoloration than younger adults. The New Zealand Dermatological Society states the freckles, solar lentigines and white marks are more common in seniors than in other age groups. Older skin is also more likely to bruise and may appear flushed or splotchy due to dilated or broken blood vessels just beneath the surface of the skin.
Lesions and Growths
Warts, skin tags and other benign blemishes are more common in older people, according to the National Institutes of Health. Older adults are also prone to cherry angiomas, shingles and warty lesions called seborrheic keratoses. Another age-related condition, bullous pemphigoid, causes large blisters to develop on the skin. This condition is most common in people in their 60s and 70s, according to the AGS. Skin cancer rates also increase with age, as UV radiation from the sun causes genetic changes to the skin’s DNA over time, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society. In fact, men over the age of 50 years are at greatest risk for melanoma, a potentially fatal type of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Other Aging Skin Issues
Other skin issues related to increasing age include varicose veins, thinning skin and intertrigo. Varicose veins are enlarged and twisted veins in the legs. They are rarely dangerous, but may itch and ache, according to the AAD. When the protective layer of fat beneath the skin decreases with age, the skin becomes thinner, paler, and more translucent. The New Zealand Dermatological Society states that thin skin is more prone to tearing and blistering. Intertrigo, or discoloration and inflammation in the folds of the skin, is most common in older people who are obese or diabetic. This condition increases the risk of bacterial and fungal infections. Psoriasis is also more common in those over the age of 50 years, according to the AGS.