The Skinny on Thinning Skin: The Causes and Treatments for Skin Volume Loss
Don’t take this the wrong way, but you might be a little thin-skinned.
No, we don’t mean you don’t know how to take criticism – we mean that your skin is literally getting thinner every day.
Not only is thin skin a cosmetic concern for many people, but it’s also a significant medical concern. Skin is our first line of defense against pathogens, toxins, ultraviolet rays, and extreme temperatures. When it becomes thinner and more fragile, it loses some of its ability to protect the body from environmental stressors. It also becomes less sensitive to different sensations, making us less receptive to touch.
Thin skin is extremely delicate and prone to injury. It is very common for older adults with thin skin to cut, bruise, and scrape themselves after an impact that they don’t even feel. This can raise the risk of infection and subsequent health challenges.
Fortunately, it is possible to slow the thinning process. While skin that is already thin cannot be restored to its teenage glory, you can adopt lifestyle habits that enhance collagen production, increase skin volume, and preserve skin health. There are also extremely effective topical products and dermatological treatments that can help accelerate skin cell turnover, strengthening and rebuilding your skin’s outer layers.
What Causes Thin Skin?
Normal, healthy skin loses roughly 30,000 dead skin cells every minute. (Fun but gross fact: Roughly 50% of the dust in your home is actually human skin!) Every year, we lose nearly 10 pounds of dead skin cells.
When we’re young, we regenerate skin cells quickly. Skin regeneration is a natural exfoliation process known as desquamation (skin peeling). New skin cells are generated within the epidermal layer called the stratum germinativum, and by the time they travel up to the top layer – the stratum corneum – they have reached the end of their life cycle, and they are sloughed away. This complex biochemical process reveals the newer, fresher, and healthier skin cells underneath.
Unfortunately, the aging process slows skin regeneration significantly. Moreover, a lifetime of not-so-great habits – drinking alcohol, tanning, smoking cigarettes, and eating junk food – can reduce the skin’s propensity for regeneration even further.
The skin regeneration process occurs approximately every 28 days in young adults. After the age of 40, the turnover cycle starts to slow, sometimes dramatically. After the age of 50, skin cell turnover can take as long as three months. Hormonal fluctuations and changes can also affect skin thickness; thinning skin and elasticity loss tends to accelerate after menopause.
How Can I Prevent Thin Skin?
If you haven’t yet noticed signs of thin skin, you can nip the aging process in the bud. Start by immediately eliminating all activities and lifestyle habits that can compromise dermal health and adopting practices that preserve and enhance your skin’s youthful volume.
- Alcohol consumption
- Recreational drug use
- Wearing sun protection daily
- Staying hydrated
- A heart-healthy diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables
- Gentle skin cleansing
Your skincare routine can also have a dramatic effect on your skin’s ability to repair itself. Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss the best skin-preserving products and techniques for your skin type.
Are There Treatments for Thin Skin?
If you already have delicate, paper-thin skin, you are probably not going to restore the volume and elasticity you had in your 20s. However, you can strengthen your skin and enhance its brightness and clarity by improving your overall health and being vigilant about skincare.
If your skin is becoming delicate and susceptible to injury, here are a few things you can do to keep it protected and strengthen it over time.
- Improve your circulation. Maintaining optimal blood circulation is essential to preserving the health and elasticity of your skin. If your skin is becoming dull and dry, make sure your heart and circulatory system are functioning properly. Have a medical evaluation to check for any issues that could be inhibiting optimal blood flow to your skin and organs. If you are medically cleared to exercise daily, make sure you work up a sweat!
- Protect your skin from the sun. Not only should you wear sunscreen on your face and neck, but you should also make sure your clothing offers sun protection, too. Check your clothing labels for a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating, which tells you what percentage of UV rays can penetrate the fabric to your skin.
- Keep moisturized, lubricated, and hydrated. Moisturized skin is more supple and less susceptible to tears and breaks. Keeping your skin hydrated and protecting your moisture barrier can keep it from succumbing to further environmental damage and facilitate your skin’s ability to repair itself. The right moisturizers will both introduce hydrating ingredients into your skin while preventing moisture loss with an occlusive ingredient.
- Eat your protein. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, reduced protein consumption is associated with greater skin fragility in older people.
- Ask your doctor about hormone replacement therapy. Postmenopausal women are particularly vulnerable to thinning skin. Estrogen replacement has been clinically shown to enhance skin thickness.
There are also numerous cosmetic products and treatments that can significantly improve skin texture and volume.
What Topical Products Treat Thinning Skin?
Alpha-Hydroxy Acid (AHA)
There has been a long-standing internet rumor that products with AHA cause skin to become thinner. Actually, the opposite is true!
Skin products containing AHA have demonstrated significant efficacy in combatting thinning skin. A study published in 1996 found that the application of a lotion containing a 25% concentration of glycolic acid for six months led to a 25% increase in skin thickness in the study group.
Retinols accelerate skin cell regeneration. The topical application of retinol was found to facilitate significant skin repair when applied to photo-aged skin, increasing dermal thickness, enhancing elasticity, and reducing lines and wrinkles.
What Cosmetic Procedures Treat Thinning Skin?
Microneedling is a minimally invasive in-office procedure that delivers controlled micro-injuries to the skin that initiate a wound healing cascade. This process causes the connective tissues to activate growth factors within the epidermis, stimulating a dramatic increase in collagen and elastin production and skin cell activity.
Read more about RF microneedling here.
Laser Skin Resurfacing
Laser skin resurfacing enhances collagen production by directing beams of intense energy deep into the epidermis, accelerating the growth of collagen fibers, and increasing skin volume and firmness.
The best treatment for your skin will depend upon your unique skin type, your lifestyle, and the degree of skin thinning. If you have concerns about thinning skin, please don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for a full consultation about your treatment options at a location near you.