Crepey skin: What causes it and how to strengthen it

Crepey skin, or thin skin, is one of the telltale signs of ageing, and also one of the most frustrating. Thin skin can be easily torn and not so easy to repair, but there are ways to make your skin thicker.

But first, what causes crepey skin?

Age, chronic sun damage and even excessive movement can contribute to thinning. Crepey skin tends to appear in older, fair-skinned people who smoke or have dry skin. This is because fair skinned people have the most sun damage and collagen breakdown, which thins skin. But even people without fair skin can develop the creping.

To understand skin ageing, you need to know the three layers of skin:

1. The epidermis — the layer we can see and feel
2. The dermis — the thicker second layer underneath the epidermis that contains hair follicles, sweat glands and nerves
3. The subcutaneous tissue — the fatty layer that provides cushioning and protection

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There is a membrane between the epidermis and dermis which both separates and attaches the epidermis and the dermis to provide structural support and allow for the exchange of fluid and cells between the skin layers.

The epidermis and dermis fit together like a puzzle with the membrane between to prevent the dermis from sliding back and forth, but as we enter our 60s, these pieces flatten and can slide much easier, causing the epidermis to detach from the dermis, leading to tearing of the skin – especially if it’s crepey.

What to do if you have a tear from having crepey skin?

The best thing you can do is try to be aware of yourself and surroundings, as well as wearing long sleeves and pants where possible.

Sometimes no matter what you do, you can still have tearing of the skin. So next time you or your friend/partner hurts themselves, these are the three steps to follow:

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  1. Stop bleeding: Cleanse using normal saline, tap water or wound cleanser
  2. Recover: Assess according to the STAR scale
  3. Prevent infection: Dress the wound
  4. Minimise pain: Take an ibuprofen or approved painkiller by your doctor.

There are many products that that can help alleviate the discomfort of skin tears while protecting the area to allow healing. It is also important to look at your dressing choices and choose products that allow you to avoid adhesives, decrease dressing changes and maintain an optimally moist wound healing environment.

How to prevent crepey, thin skin

  • One study of skin tear incidence in a longterm care facility showed a reduction from 180 skin tears in a six-month period to two skin tears in a six-month time period. This particular facility used a gentle, advanced skin care line with pH-balanced soap and surfactant-free cleansers and moisturisers containing amino acids.
  • Creams and moisturiser types – other creams and moisturisers that worked included ones with grape seed extract, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and hydroxytyrosol (from olives); essential fatty acids like omega-3, -6 and -9, plus anything with a substantial amount of silicone.
  • Remember to hydrate often and eat a balanced diet
  • Apply a moisturizer to the thinned area frequently. Clean the area with a mild soap that has no fragrant additives. With the skin still wet, smooth on a moisturizing lotion.
  • Add fish oil or flax seed supplements to your diet. According to Ray Sahelian, M.D., a study published in the September 2008 edition of the “British Journal of Nutrition” found that some conditions that lead to thin skin might improve by adding fish oil or flax seed to the diet. Both elements are available as dietary supplements. Follow the instructions provided with the product for proper dosage.
  • Make a natural salve: Mix 1 teaspoon Camellia seed oil, 1 teaspoon primrose oil, one quarter teaspoon Vitamin E oil and 3 drops lavender essential oil in a small bottle. Shake before use. Massage a few drops onto thin skin daily to help thicken it.

Tell us, do you often tear your skin? What is your preferred type of prevention?