What to Know About Thinning Skin and Easy Bruising Skin
How you or a loved one can avoid injury and care for older skin
If you're an older adult, you may have noticed your skin isn't the same as when you were younger; you bruise more easily and your skin seems thinner. That's because as we age, our skin changes.
For one thing, it does get thinner. "This is multifactorial, from the degradation of collagen and elastin from ultraviolet light in sunlight, a decrease in estrogen levels in menopause and other factors," says Dr. Meghan Feely, attending physician at Mount Sinai Hospital's Department of Dermatology in New York City.
"With aging, the cells that make up the layers of our skin shrink and decrease in number," adds Dr. Noelani Gonzalez, director of cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai West in New York. "The fatty layer beneath our skin, which acts as a cushion, thins out, too."
Repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun breaks down collagen, which is why it's important to always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to protect the skin from skin cancer and thinning. If you're interested in seeking treatment for thinning skin, "topical retinoids or in-office treatments, such as lasers, may help to remodel collagen and thicken your skin," Feely says.
In addition to collagen and elastic fibers in the middle layer of the skin, or dermis, getting damaged by the sun, the small blood vessels (capillaries) that are near the skin's surface "become more fragile, too, which can lead to bruising when they are broken," Feely explains.
Thinning Skin Bruises More Easily
Even a small blow or injury can cause a bruise on thinner skin. As blood leaks out of the vessels, it makes a black and blue mark, which later turns yellow, green and then brown as it fades. When your body reabsorbs the blood, the mark disappears, although this healing can take longer as you age.
Certain medications may contribute to easy bruising, including aspirin, anticoagulants and antibiotics. As a result, bleeding might take longer than usual to stop and might cause a bigger bruise. Using corticosteroids can also cause your skin to thin, making it more susceptible to bruising.
Men's Skin and Women's Skin Differ
Men's skin is roughly 20 percent thicker than women's, mostly due to higher levels of testosterone. As we age, collagen production declines in both men and women, but women lose it more rapidly than men, especially after menopause. Menopause brings with it a decrease in estrogen, causing women's skin and collagen layer to thin, Gonzalez says.
"Because there isn't much of a cushion there for when bumps happen, minimal trauma can cause bruised skin easier in women," she says. "That being said, men have slower healing times, which means they might have to deal with a bruise for longer."
How to Care for Thinning and Bruising Skin
If you or someone you care for has thinning, easily bruising skin, you might want to try some of these care tips from Gonzalez:
- Avoid bumping into things by arranging furniture so it’s not in the way, reducing clutter and removing rugs, which could cause tripping.
- Exposure to certain medications, such as long-term steroids, blood thinners (aspirin, NSAIDs), as well as natural supplements, like vitamin E and fish oil, can make people more susceptible to bruising, so avoiding these might help. However, always consult with a physician prior to stopping any.
- Wear long pants and sleeves and protective clothing to help minimize bruising.
- Moisturize the skin to prevent it from getting dry, which makes it more prone to breaking open.
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF greater than 30.
- Consider using anti-aging medications, such as topical retinoids, which have been shown to increase skin collagen. But always ask a dermatologist before starting any.
If the skin does get injured, apply cold compresses and keep the area elevated. Then, apply warm compresses to increase circulation to speed up healing of the bruise.
Over-the-counter medications, such as Vitamin K creams, may help bruises fade away quicker. "Also, make sure the person has an adequate Vitamin C intake, as a deficiency could also be the cause of easy bruising," Gonzalez says.
"Easy bruising in (older people) is very common and, unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do to prevent it," she adds. "Medical treatment is usually not necessary, but be aware that a bruise might take weeks or even months to fade away."