Causes of and Treatments for Crepey Skin

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on July 11, 2017Written by Mandy Ferreira

What is crepey skin?

Crepey skin is thin and looks finely wrinkled like crepe paper. It may also sag or feel loose. While crepey skin is similar to common wrinkles in many ways, the condition tends to impact larger areas, and this skin feels noticeably more fragile and thin. Crepey skin is most common under the eyes and on the upper inner arms.

Causes of crepey skin

Sun damage is the most common cause of crepey skin, but it certainly isn't the only cause. Crepey skin can also result from aging, a lack of moisture, excessive weight loss, or any combination of these.

The ultraviolet light in the sun’s rays break down collagen and elastin in skin that help it stay tight and wrinkle-free. Once these fibers break down, the skin can loosen, thin, and wrinkle.

Age is also a factor. You produce less collagen and elastin — the fibers that help your skin look supple and smooth — the older you get. Pollution, stress, and smoking cigarettes all take a toll on skin over your lifetime and can contribute to visible signs of aging.

As you age, your skin produces less oil than it did when you were younger. These oils create an important lipid barrier that protects your skin and helps seal in moisture. Hormonal changes can also lead to drier skin and less natural oil production. Dryness for any reason can cause crepey skin. If you have crepey skin that comes and goes depending on the day or the season, a lack of moisture is most likely the cause.

How to prevent crepey skin

It’s incredibly important to properly protect your skin from sun damage to prevent crepey skin. Stay out the sun as much as possible, and always wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.

A good moisturizer or body lotion can also go a long way. Heidi A. Waldorf, MD, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, recommends products with glycerin or hyaluronic acid to prevent or improve the appearance of crepey skin. These ingredients pull in and hold moisture so your skin stays hydrated and looks plump. Moisturizing oils like coconut oil, olive oil, and cocoa butter can also help moisturize and soften your skin.

While there aren’t any supplements or particular foods that have been shown to improve crepey skin, a well-balanced diet that is high in antioxidants — like the kinds you find in colorful fruits and vegetables — can help support the health of your skin and the rest of your body. Vitamin C in particular may be beneficial for skin health because it plays a role in collagen production.

But eating more antioxidants won’t fix your skin overnight. “You can’t go eat a pint of blueberries and expect your skin to look better,” said Amy Kassouf, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, “but it does help prevent that breakdown over the years.”

Crepey skin treatments

Multiple treatments may be used to reduce crepey skin and improve skin health. Your particular skin, the cause of creping, and the location on your body will determine what treatments are best. Regardless of what you choose, the sooner you treat crepey skin, the easier it will be to create a noticeable change in its appearance, texture, thickness, and support. Your dermatologist can help you determine the right treatments for your skin and make sure you are properly diagnosed.

Dermatological treatments

Dermatological treatments that can treat crepey skin include:

Topical retinoid

Either in a cream or gel, retinoids encourage exfoliation and speed cell turnover. However, these products can be drying and make crepey skin worse if they aren’t also used with proper precautions and a hydrating moisturizer.

Fractional laser treatment (Fraxel)

This treatment uses lasers to heat up small areas under your skin, which encourages the growth of new collagen. This helps to support your skin and smooth out wrinkling from the inside out. Crepey skin around the eyes responds well to treatment with the Fraxel dual laser according to Dr. Kassouf.

Ultrasound (Ulthera)

Similar to a fractional laser treatment, Ulthera is a skin-tightening procedure that uses targeted ultrasound to heat the supporting tissues below your skin. This intense heat breaks down some of the cells and stimulates the growth of collagen to tighten your skin. This treatment is typically used on the face and neck and not on the upper arm. That’s because topical anesthetics aren’t effective, and nerves in the upper inner arm can make the treatment uncomfortable.

Cryolipolysis (CoolSculpting)

Cryolipolysis is a noninvasive procedure that helps to remove localized areas of fat. The treatment freezes the lipids in fat cells to cause them to slowly dissolve. Cryolipolysis is used when loose skin is over excess fat, as the treatment tightens skin by removing the fat underneath the surface.

Fillers

A biostimulatory filling agent like Radiesse or Sculptra can improve the appearance, texture, and thickness of crepey skin. These agents are injected into your skin to stimulate the growth of collagen.

Over-the-counter treatments

Skin that is very sun damaged or aged can benefit from products with ingredients like retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, or peptides. When included in skin care products, these ingredients can help encourage new cell growth and remove dead or damaged cells. Lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and hyaluronic acid can also help to moisturize the skin and improve the skin’s appearance.

For crepey skin on your arms or legs, look for a body moisturizer that contains alpha hydroxy acid like Lac-Hydrin or AmLactin.

At-home treatments

A simple sugar scrub may help remove dry, dead skin cells and improve the appearance of your skin overall. However, the best thing you can do at home is make sure you’re using face and body cleansers that don’t strip your skin of its natural lipid and protein barrier and properly moisturizing when you’re done cleansing.

“Using good skin care on the body can help even the crepiest skin just look better,” said Dr. Waldorf.

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