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ageing changes in skin

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Aging spots

Alternative Names
age-related changes in skin

Skin changes in many ways as a person ages. Its ability to stretch, and its colouration, dryness, and ability to protect the body are all affected by the ageing process.

What is the information for this topic?
The skin is considered the largest organ of the body. It is one of the most noticeable places in which ageing changes occur. Wrinkles, sagging skin and dry skin are all indicators of the ageing process. To many individuals, these can be unpleasant changes.

The skin is the body's protective coating. It protects against the environment and helps to regulate body temperature. It also helps maintain the body's fluid and salt balance. Nerve fibres in the skin provide information about a person's surroundings. These nerves detect touch, pain, pressure and temperature.

The skin tends to get thinner with age. This causes older people to have pale, translucent skin. The number of pigment or colour-containing cells decreases. The colour-containing cells that are left tend to get bigger and group together. This is the cause of age spots that commonly appear on elderly skin. These are also called liver spots. These pigmented areas tend to be more common on skin that has been exposed to the sun.

The number of sweat glands in the skin is decreased with age. This causes the elderly to sweat less. This lack of sweating makes the ability to regulate body temperature more difficult in hot weather. Because of this, elderly people are more likely to get heat exhaustion. At the same time, there is less blood flow to the skin. This makes the skin of the elderly cooler to the touch. The decreased number of sweat glands and oil glands in the skin also causes drier, scalier skin with age that may itch.

The skin also loses its strength and elasticity, or ability to stretch. This makes the skin less able to smooth out, which is thought to partly cause the wrinkles and skin sagging seen in the elderly. Another change with age is that a person's skin will bruise more easily. This occurs because the blood vessels in the skin become fragile and bleed easily. Women begin this skin change earlier than men. The layer of fat under the skin also becomes thinner with age. This is part of the reason for the thin, lean appearance of older people. It also contributes to loosening and wrinkling of the skin. This loss of fat also means a person has less natural insulation. An older person is at greater risk for a low body temperature when exposed to cold.

The combined effects of skin ageing can cause increased bruising and skin tears, even from minor injuries. Older people are also prone to getting damage to skin that receives a high amount of pressure for long periods of time. Wounds, in older people, may heal four to five times more slowly than in younger people.

Skin disorders are also more likely with age. More than 90% of the geriatric population will have some type of skin condition. Environmental factors and inherited factors are a frequent cause of skin changes. The sun is a major culprit in causing skin damage, though many other diseases can also cause skin changes.

Sun damage can be easily seen in a person by comparing sun-exposed skin with areas that do not get sunlight. Unexposed skin tends to be very elastic and very smooth. Sun-exposed skin is dry, wrinkled and sagging. A leathery, weather-beaten appearance of the skin is often seen in people who have worked or spent a lot of time outdoors during their lives. Sunlight exposure has been proven to increase the risk of skin cancer, which is most commonly seen in the elderly.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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