Problems tackled: 43,481

Ageing skin

It is sad that natural changes in the skin as we grow older are often considered unacceptable and embarrassing. In the USA alone, more than $12 billion is spent each year on cosmetics to disguise or prevent the signs of ageing. We might think this is due to our youth-fixated western society, but throughout history anti-ageing potions (many of them very bizarre) have been applied to the skin.

How skin ages

 Old skin is wrinkled, dry and saggy, and has a mottled colour. In fact, these changes are more to do with exposure to sunlight than with simply getting old. This is why the exposed areas on the hands, face and neck seem to age faster and look less attractive than the smooth and even skin on the tummy.
Skin ages in two ways, through:
  • sun damage, which is probably responsible for 80% of skin ageing
  • normal ageing – but without sun damage we would probably not develop wrinkles until we were in our 80s.

The sun is very bad for skin. It makes it thinner and damages its important proteins, such as collagen, which acts as scaffolding to give skin its strength, and elastin, which gives skin its bounce. Even young complexions develop fine wrinkles after sunbathing, giving the skin a coarse, grainy appearance. Collagen also supports the tiny blood vessels in the skin. Weakening of the collagen means the blood vessels show up as broken thread veins (‘farmer’s face’) and bleed more easily; these tiny bruises end up as mottled discoloration. Brownish patches, known as liver spots, gradually develop on sun-exposed areas such as the hands and sides of the forehead.

Looking after your skin as you get older

Skin produces its own natural grease to protect the skin, and to prevent it from losing moisture. As we get older, our skin becomes more fragile, especially in sun-exposed areas, so it desperately needs the greasy protection. Unfortunately, older skin produces less grease, and every time we wash with soap we strip away the natural oils. Bubble baths contain detergent to make the foam, so they also remove oils from the skin.
Here are some hints to keep your skin in good condition.
  • Use a sunscreen every day. This will prevent further ageing of your skin.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Avoid overwashing. As your skin does not sweat as much when you are older and does not produce as much grease, body odour is not such a problem as in younger people. Obviously, you want to be hygienic, but consider bathing or showering on alternate days instead of daily.
  • Use a ‘cream bar’ or ‘cream body wash’, rather than a soap.
  • Avoid foam baths (bubble baths).
  • After bathing or showering, apply a body cream. This is better than using a bath oil, which can make the bath or shower dangerously slippery.

For more information, look at the section on itching.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 1st 2013


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Comments on this article

Posted by Kim on 02/10/2015 at 09:08

I have to agree with Janet, really against overusing sunscreen. Also a huge proponent of supplementing vitamin D levels, so many of us are deficient and don't even know it. Aging skin is a problem I have been facing for a few years now, and I have done quite a bit of reading on how I can slow down / reverse the process. I found glutathione to be quite beneficial for reducing the appearance of age spots, it has also helped my overall complexion. I came across an article that peaked my interest a couple of years back, since I started supplementing it, my skin has greatly improved! The article is They also have quite a bit of information on how glutathione can help lighten your skin tone, but I haven't noticed my skin getting any lighter.

Posted by Janet on 17/02/2012 at 05:30

I am disappointed to read that you are advocating daily use of sunscreen, especially in the current climate of Vitamin D deficiency, which is being linked to a lack of sunlight reaching the skin. There are more important things than aging skin, and it is my opinion that aging skin is due mainly to the type of skin, the use of chemical laden creams and constant "over" exposure to the sun and also to the wind, which dries the skin. I have regular "sensible" sun exposure, without sunscreen, I use skin creams without chemicals and additives and have virtually no wrinkles.

Posted by Optional on 09/06/2011 at 01:50

i feel great with the suggestions given

Posted by Optional on 16/12/2010 at 06:21

im a mechanical engineer in uae,my nationality is hands hav turned black but rest of my body is colour is white...Wht should i do to get rid of the black colour on my hand...

Posted by ketty on 20/09/2010 at 08:50

I want to add some useful things regarding sunscreen, like we should use sunscreen containing many antioxidants and SPF of 15 & also it Has no synthetic chemicals. anti wrinkle treatment

Posted by Optional on 03/08/2010 at 03:03

i just came home from work and noticed two looks like port winr stains on my legs. they were not there this morning. does anyone know what this could be.

Posted by Abner on 15/07/2010 at 04:51

Although you do not need to have warts removed, you may nevertheless want to. In spite of being harmless and usually painless, there are some warts that may be painful. Usually, any pain from warts depends on it’s location. Do Warts Need to Be Removed Great read, Thanks.

Posted by Optional on 08/07/2010 at 06:15

Dark wine spots appear on my arms under the thin skin. Any help for this?

Posted by Optional on 27/04/2010 at 04:34

I have a couple of blood blisters on my torso that appeared when I was about 40, (so 12 years ago). They are not painful, but if I catch one it bleeds profusely. Can I get rid of them with lasers or another treatment?

Posted by Optional on 21/03/2010 at 05:26

how to keep skin from sagging

Posted by Optional marge snn cohen on 16/03/2010 at 11:26

I nave been of blood thinners due to vascular desease and unappealing blotches have coccured on both hands and wrists......I read the scection that described sun damage,,I worked in the sun many years as a waitress on a there anything non invasive that can hel thicken the skin a little.......Thank you

Posted by tiami on 27/02/2010 at 01:40



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Fascinating facts

Fewer British women use anti-wrinkle cream than French, Spanish or German women (Mintel 2004)

In the UK, £545 million is spent on skin care each year (Mintel 2004)

The French call brown age spots 'les médaillons de cimetière' (cemetery medals)

Cleopatra used red wine, now known to contain alpha hydroxy acids, on her face

The Ebers papyrus, an ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1550 BC, has a recipe to cure wrinkles, made from pistachio nuts, wax, poppy seed oil and grass

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