I'm 85 years old, and my skin sometimes tears open if I bump against something. Why does this happen, and what can I do about it?
Answer From Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.
Fragile or thin skin that tears easily is a common problem in older adults. Aging, sun exposure and genetics all play a role in thinning skin. Certain medications, such as long-term use of oral or topical corticosteroids, also can weaken the skin and blood vessels in the skin.
Thin skin isn't necessarily a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. But you might want to see a doctor, who can evaluate your skin.
To protect thin skin and prevent tears and cuts:
Aug. 31, 2017
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats. Consider wearing two layers to protect your forearms when doing yardwork or gardening, common areas for minor injury to the skin. You might also try wearing tubular or rolled gauze bandages.
- Avoid prolonged sun exposure.
- If you must be outside in the sun, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or perspiring.
- Keep skin well-moisturized and protected by using a good moisturizing cream, such as Vanicream, CeraVe or Cetaphil.
- Talk to your doctor about treating skin with vitamin A (retinol), which might improve your skin's ability to tolerate injuries.
See more Expert Answers
- What causes our skin to age? American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/younger-skin/causes-of-aging-skin. Accessed July 31, 2017.
- Gibson LE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 16, 2017.
- Skin care and aging. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/skin-care-and-aging. Accessed July 31, 2017.
- Hoffman BL, et al. The mature woman. In: Williams Gynecology. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2016. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed July 31, 2017.
- Taffet GE. Normal aging. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed July 31, 2017.
- Sunscreen: How to help protect your skin from the sun. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/understandingover-the-countermedicines/ucm239463.htm. Accessed July 31, 2017.