As we grow older, our skin can gradually become more loose and flaccid. But when skin begins to feel thin as paper, or like crepe, the most common cause isn’t age, says dermatologist Amy Kassouf, MD.
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Unlike wrinkles around the eyes and mouth (that result from repeated muscle movements), crepey skin typically can be traced to sun damage. Over time, exposure to the sun breaks down elastin, the fibers in your skin that allow it to stretch and return to its normal position.
Those fibers can heal, but they eventually lose their ability to repair completely after repeated exposure over time. Think of it as an elastic waistband that, with wear, becomes more lax.
Crepey skin usually begins to appear when you’re in your 40s. But it can show up as early as your 20s if you are a chronic tanning-bed user or have gained and lost substantial amounts of weight. Medications are another potential cause of crepey skin, such as long-term prednisone.
Luckily, there are ways to prevent crepey skin — and even correct some aspects of it, Dr. Kassouf says.
4 best ways to prevent crepey skin
- Stick to the shade. The most important thing to do, says Dr. Kassouf is to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Also, protect your skin when you’re in the sun.
- Make skin hydration a priority. Keeping skin well-hydrated with a good moisturizer helps prevent injury that creates or worsens crepiness.
- Pay attention to ingredients. Look for moisturizers that contain lubricating and plumping ingredients like alpha or beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid, lactic acid or glycolic acid) ― or one that has a high concentration of the newest and best ingredient for building up dry, crepey skin: hyaluronic acid.
- Fractionated lasers. These lasers create microscopic holes in the skin (think aerating the lawn). These holes contract as they heal and grow fresh, new skin at the surface. This evens out your tone and texture on your face, or even on thicker skin areas elsewhere.
How to tailor your skin care routine as you age
If you’re into your 40s or beyond, your skin no longer produces oils the way it did when you were younger. These oils act as a barrier, protecting skin from chemicals in the environment that cause irritation and inflammation.
Adding emollients and hydroxy acid cleansers to your skin care routine not only helps keep your skin from becoming crepey, but it also helps prevent further damage if your skin is already lax.
Dr. Kassouf recommends retinol topical creams to help reduce that crepey look. Retinols help restore skin’s elasticity and thicken collagen (which gives our skin its structure) as well as elastin (which gives our skin its stretch).
What about plastic surgery or other options?
Moisturizers and other creams work well for mildly crepey skin, but they have limitations. For instance, if you’ve lost a large amount of weight, leaving you with a lot of crepey skin, a plastic surgeon likely will need to remove it.
Before deciding on surgery, you may want to consider procedures like Thermage, which uses radio frequency waves to heat skin, build collagen and tighten up in a limited area. This procedure is sometimes painful and costly, and there are slight risks, Dr. Kassouf says. It has variable success rates and isn’t meant for everyone, she says.
The best candidate for this kind of procedure is someone who:
- Has a small area (like the neck or love handles) to tighten.
- Has lost 10 to 20 pounds and has a small amount of skin that needs tightening.
- Has had a baby and is struggling to get the stomach firm again.
- Is in his or her 40s or 50s and has mild, age-related skin laxity.
There are a host of options available — from lotions to surgery — that can help reduce crepey skin as you age. Some products are available over the counter and some need a prescription.
Work with your doctor or dermatologist to decide what the best options are for your lifestyle and skin care needs.