Preventing and treating dry, paper thin skin tears 70



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As we get older, our skin loses its elasticity – we all know that – but one thing we may not have realised from observing our parents and grandparents is that our skin almost becomes paper thin. The smallest knock can cause our skin to rupture and bleed profusely.

If you’re going through this, you’re definitely not alone, and there are ways to prevent it from happening, and treat it if it does occur.


Cause of skin tears

Skin tears are a growing problem and without treatment, they may become chronic wounds with prolonged healing, causing unnecessary pain.

To know why our skin can tear as we age, first we need to know the basic structure of the skin. There are 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

There is a basement 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.



Common sense comes in to play here but sometimes, a cut or scrape cannot be avoided even if you take precautions. The best thing you can do is try to be spatially aware of yourself, as well as wear long sleeves and pants where possible.

Use of appropriate equipment to assist with mobility also can be helpful in decreasing the chance of developing skin tears if you are prone to falls.

Skin care is also vital to ensuring your skin isn’t brittle or dry – this can lead to even more tears. 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.

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.

Tips to prevent skin tears:

  • Identify risks around your home and add foam or move out of walkways
  • Ensure adequate lighting and position small furniture (night tables, chairs) to avoid bumps or knocks.
  • Remove rugs and excess furniture
  • Use moisturisers daily
  • Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants and stockings
  • Use skin sleeves if very at risk
  • Remember to hydrate often and eat a balanced diet




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

  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.

The STAR system for assessing tears, according to NursingTimes:

Category 1a

A skin tear where the edges can be realigned to the normal anatomical position (without undue stretching) and the skin or flap colour is not pale, dusky or darkened.

Category 1b

A skin tear where the edges can be realigned to the normal anatomical position (without undue stretching) and the skin or flap colour is pale, dusky or darkened.

Category 2a

A skin tear where the edges cannot be realigned to the normal anatomical position and the skin or flap colour is not pale, dusky or darkened.

Category 2b

A skin tear where the edges cannot be realigned to the normal anatomical position and the skin or flap colour is pale, dusky or darkened.


Types of products to treat skin tears

Hydrogel sheets – These are clear or translucent water or glycerin-based products that can be used to maintain a moist wound environment. They look like a thin slice of sticky gelatin and can handle the initial fluid from a wound for the first 24-48 hours. They vary in thickness and are non-adherent to the wound base. The hydrogel sheet may be held in place with elastic net dressing or a tubular-type dressing.

Protective sleeves – The use of protective sleeves or elastic tubular support bandages that come on a roll is a good way to hold dressings in place without irritating sensitive skin with adhesive tape.

Use caution with adhesive closure strips – Adhesive closure strips are common for keeping skin tears closed while they heal, but be careful. We all know what it’s like to remove a bandaid, so it could lead to further damage if you apply an adhesive bandage.


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

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Dont use soap. Use bodywash instead. Soap drys the skin to much. Body wash is kinder on aging skin. Plus the bonus of keeping the shower clean.

    3 REPLY
    • I just discovered that I was itching from using a body wash. I now use natural soap by Shea Moisture, it is amazing. I was also itching from a detergent, I now use detergent that is free and clear.

  2. I don’t have problem with skin tears just dry skin especially the hands apply moisturiser several times a day but they are still very dry

    3 REPLY
    • I use Hemp Hand Protector from The Body Shop. I have done for years, especially once the colder weather arrives. My mother also used it until she died at 90.

    • Try essentials brand lanolin from your pharamacy or health food store. Under $7 its nice and thick and very healing.(Essentials brand seems thicker than any other brand. )

    • Thank you will definitely give them a try it is horrible especially when the skin cracks also have problem with skin breaking between the fingers

  3. I get so many, but luckily our Medical Centre has a nurse on duty every day from 8 till 7pm 7 days, After initial dressing , I go every few days to get it dressed, sometimes they last for a couple of months. All dressings etc free. Bumped into dishwasher door, when open,

  4. Highly recommend Lucas’ Paw Paw ointment for healing and reducing scarring on any cuts, tears or burns.

  5. I use a tincture for any wounds, Devils Blood a vine from South America available in any health food shop.

  6. Use Jojoba. Its the closest thing to collagen and you can put it on while you’re still wet from the shower and it leaves no oily feeling.

  7. Bit of an advertisement Clare Felton-Taylor for Jojoba! Someone just stated that its the best stuff to use for skin tears!! Might try it!

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