Sagging Skin, Wrinkles and Skin Aging
Synopsis: As a person ages they may experience facial wrinkles, sagging skin, and increased risk for skin injury as the skin becomes fragile and thinner and the protective subcutaneous fat layer is lost.1
Author: Disabled World Contact: www.disabled-world.com
Published: 2010-12-07 Updated: 2018-09-03
A person's skin does a number of things such as helping to control their body temperature, protecting them from the environment, assisting to control their electrolyte and fluid balance, and more. A person's skin also contains nerve receptors that allow them to feel sensations that include pain, touch, and pressure.
A person's skin has a number of layers, although it can be divided into three general main parts:
- The epidermis, which contains pigmentation, skin cells, and proteins
- The dermis, which contains nerves, blood vessels, oil glands, and hair follicles
- The subcutaneous layer, which contains blood vessels, sweat glands, and fat
Each of these skin layers also contains connective tissue with collagen fibers providing support, as well as elastin fibers that provide both strength and flexibility. Changes in a person's skin are related to the person's genetic makeup, environmental factors, and additional factors. The largest single factor affecting skin changes is exposure to the sun, something that can be seen through comparisons of one area of a person's body that has been regularly exposed to the sun to another area of the person's skin that has not. Natural pigmentation appears to provide a level of protection against sun-induced skin damage. People who are fair-skinned and have blue eyes experience more skin changes related to aging than do persons with darker and more heavily-pigmented skin.
Why Skin Changes With Age
As a person ages, the outer layer of their skin known as the, 'epidermis,' thins - despite the number of cell layers remaining unchanged. The number of pigment-containing cells in a person's skin decreases, although the remaining melanocytes in their skin increases in size. Skin that is aging is thinner in appearance, is clearer, and is also more pale. The person's skin may develop liver spots, also known as, 'age spots,' or, 'lentigos,' in areas that have been exposed to the sun.
Changes in connective tissue can reduce the strength and elasticity in a person's skin; something known as, 'elastosis.' Elastosis is particularly pronounced in areas of a person's skin that have been exposed to the sun, and produces skin that is weather-beaten and leathery in appearance - something that is common in sailors, farmers, and those who spend extended periods of time in the sun. Blood vessels in the dermis also become more fragile as a person ages, something that leads to bruising and bleeding underneath a person's skin. The process is often times referred to as, 'senile purpura,' 'cherry angiomas,' or other similar conditions.
Subcutaneous glands in a person's skin produce less oil as they age, with men experiencing a minimal decrease; commonly after the age of eighty. Women produce less oil on a gradual basis, starting after menopause. The process makes it more difficult to keep skin moist and results in both itchiness and dryness. Subcutaneous fat layers thin and reduce average padding and insulation, increasing a person's risk for skin injury, while reducing a person's ability to maintain body temperature. Due to this, people have less natural insulation and have an increased risk of experiencing hypothermia during colder weather.
Some of the medications people take are absorbed by the fat layer in their skin. Loss of this layer changes the ways in which these medications work. Sweat glands produce less sweat, making it more difficult for a person to keep cool and increasing their risk of becoming overheated, or developing a heat stroke. Growths; to include warts, skin tags, or other forms of blemishes, are more common among persons who are older.
Effects of Skin Changes
As a person ages they experience an increased risk for skin injury. Their skin becomes more fragile and thinner; the protective subcutaneous fat layer is eventually lost. A person's ability to sense vibration, pressure, touch, cold and heat can be reduced - leading to an increased risk for injury. Pulling and rubbing on skin has the potential to cause tears in the skin, while fragile blood vessels can easily be broken. Flat collections of blood or, 'purpura,' as well as bruises and raised collections of blood or, 'hematomas,' have the potential to form after even a slight injury.
These may be easily seen on the outside of a person's forearms, although they can happen anywhere on a person's body. Changes to a person's skin and loss of subcutaneous fat, in combination with a tendency to become less active, as well as potential nutritional deficiencies and illness contribute to pressure ulcers. Skin that is aging also repairs itself at a slower rate than younger skin. Healing wounds can take up to four times longer, contributing to both infections and pressure ulcers. Blood vessel changes, diabetes, lowered immunity, and additional factors can also affect healing.
Common Skin Issues
Skin disorders are very common among people who are older and many times difficult to differentiate between changes that are average and ones that are related to a particular disorder. Skin disorders may be caused by a number of conditions, such as:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Reactions to medications
- Blood vessel diseases such as arteriosclerosis
Additional causes of skin changes can include clothing, climate, indoor heating, allergies to plants and other substances, and exposure to either household or industrial chemicals. Exposure to sunlight may cause:
- Liver spots
- Skin thickening
- Loss of elasticity
- Non-cancerous skin growths
Exposure to the sun has been directly linked to forms of skin cancers that include squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell epithelioma, and melanoma.
Prevention of Skin Change Damage
The fact that the majority of skin changes are related to sun exposure makes prevention of them a life-long process. It is important to prevent sunburn in any way possible. It is also important to use a good quality sunscreen when you are outdoors, even during the winter. Wear clothing that is protective, as well as a hat when necessary.
Maintaining adequate levels of fluid and pursuing good nutrition are helpful; dehydration increases a person's risk of a skin injury.
At times, even minor nutritional deficiencies may cause a person to experience skin lesions, rashes, or other forms of skin changes - even if they are not experiencing any other symptoms. It is important to keep your skin moist through use of lotions and other types of moisturizers. Do not use soaps that contain heavy perfumes. Bath oils may be appealing, but can cause people to slip and fall. Keeping your skin moist will keep both you and your skin more comfortable, and help your skin to heal.
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