Thin skin is skin that tears, bruises, or breaks easily. Thin skin is sometimes called thinning skin, or fragile skin. When thin skin develops an appearance like tissue paper, it’s called crepey skin.
Thin skin is a common condition in older adults and is most noticeable in the face, arms, and hands. A person with thin skin may find that they are able to see the veins, tendons, bones, and capillaries under the skin of their hands and arms.
Causes of thin skin
Your skin is made up of many layers, and the middle layer is called the dermis. It contributes 90 percent of your skin’s thickness. The thick, fibrous tissue of the dermis is made of collagen and elastin. The dermis provides strength, flexibility, and elasticity to the skin. Thin skin is the result of the thinning of the dermis.
Thin skin is most often associated with aging. But it can also be caused by UV exposure, genetics, lifestyle, and the use of certain medications.
As you age, your body produces less collagen. Collagen is the building block of skin that helps prevent wrinkles, sagging, and moisture loss. Your genetics may contribute to how much collagen you lose as you age.
As the dermis produces less collagen, your skin is less able to repair itself, resulting in thin skin.
A majority of the noticeable damage to the dermis, like wrinkling, sagging, age spots, and thinning skin, is related to exposure to the sun. Sun damage develops over many years of sun exposure.
Thin skin is most noticeable on the hands, arms, and face. These are the parts of the body you’re more likely to have not covered with clothing over your lifetime.
The use of tanning beds greatly increases the skin damage caused by UV exposure.
Some people may experience thin skin with long-term use of certain medications:
- topical and oral corticosteroids
- over-the-counter aspirin
- prescription blood thinners
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve)
There are a number of lifestyle factors that may cause premature aging of the skin. Some of these lifestyle factors include:
- use of alcohol
- lack of regular exercise
- a diet that is low in fresh fruits and vegetables, but high in sugar and refined carbohydrates
Preventing thin skin
It isn’t possible to reverse most symptoms of sun damage to the skin. However, to prevent premature aging of the skin or further damage, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:
- Apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, every day, to all skin not covered by clothing.
- Avoid tanning and tanning beds.
- Quit smoking.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Drink less alcohol, which is very dehydrating.
- Get regular exercise, which can boost the immune system, and may give skin a more youthful appearance.
- Wash your skin gently and regularly, especially after sweating.
- Apply moisturizer daily, to lock in skin’s moisture for a more supple appearance.
- Discontinue use of skin products that sting or burn, unless prescribed by a doctor.
Preventing further damage
A person with thin skin will find that their skin may bruise, cut, or scrape very easily. There are precautions you can take to lessen the risk of these injuries.
- Wear clothing to protect vulnerable body parts like arms and legs, which you can easily bump objects with around your house.
- Consider wearing gloves to protect the fragile skin on your hands.
- Try wearing socks over your arms to protect delicate forearms.
- Move slowly and carefully to prevent accidental bruises, cuts, and scrapes.
- Cover the sharp edges of furniture and doorways with soft padding.
- Keep pets’ nails well-trimmed.
- Keep your skin well-moisturized.
In-office and home treatments for thin skin
There are several in-office and home treatments that have been shown to rejuvenate the skin.
In-office treatments include microneedling, injectable skin and dermal fillers, laser resurfacing, intense pulsed light, and photodynamic therapy.
Microneedling or dermarolling can be done at home or in a doctor’s office for skin rejuvenation. Doctors use dermarollers with much longer needles than can be purchased for at-home use. This can be helpful for people who are looking for significant skin changes. Your doctor will prepare your skin with a topical anesthetic, and roll a hand-held roller fitted with very tiny needles over your skin.
The needles cause small, pinpoint bleeding, but don’t damage the skin. Multiple treatments over time result in the boost of collagen production. This increases the skin’s elasticity and suppleness.
Injectable skin and dermal fillers
A variety of skin and dermal fillers are available that can fill out the loss of volume in the skin, giving it a plumper and more youthful appearance. While most are used only for the face, some are also used for hand rejuvenation.
Some fillers provide immediate results, which may last up to two years. Other fillers require multiple treatments to produce results that are visible in a few months’ time. Your doctor will suggest the best fillers for your skin’s needs.
Laser resurfacing treatments
A number of in office, laser treatments are available that can help to reduce the visible signs of aging due to UV exposure.
Ablative lasers are lasers that vaporize tissue and produce dramatic results, but do require a longer recovery period. Non-ablative lasers produce a more moderate result, with little to no downtime.
Your dermatologist will help you decide the best laser options for your skin’s needs.
Intense pulsed light and photodynamic therapy
Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a light-based skin rejuvenation treatment. It focuses a specific wavelength of light onto the skin. IPL is sometimes referred to as a photofacial.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a more intense light-based treatment. The skin is first covered with a topical photosensitive product.
Both treatments require multiple sessions to see results. Both treatments stimulate the production of collagen, and may help to reduce the visible effects of sun damage. Both IPL and PDT are safe for use on the face, neck, chest, and hands.
Treatments that can be done at home include applying prescription retinoids to your skin and taking supplements.
Prescription topical retinoids
Retinoids are a class of medication derived from Vitamin A. Prescription topical retinoids are very effective at reducing and preventing the visible signs of skin damage due to UV exposure.
Your dermatologist can discuss the best retinoid or product for your skin’s needs. A person who uses topical retinoids for extended periods of time may experience:
- skin dryness
- redness of the skin
- skin scaling
Diet and nutritional supplements
Eating a well-balanced diet is important for the health of your skin. Many of the components essential for healthy skin are found in fruits, vegetables, fish, oils, and meats.
The following nutritional supplements have been suggested to produce antiaging effects on the skin:
- vitamin C, both oral and topical
- gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), like evening primrose oil
- collagen peptides
- omega-3 fatty acids
Always check with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement. Some supplements can interact with medications that you’re taking.