Skin changes in many ways as a person ages. Its ability to stretch, and its coloration, dryness, and ability to protect the body are all affected by the aging process.
The skin is the body's protective coating. It protects against the environment and helps to regulate body temperature. It also helps maintain the body's fluid and salt balance. Nerve fibers in the skin provide information about a person's surroundings. These nerves detect touch, pain, pressure, and temperature.
The skin is one of the most noticeable places in which aging changes occur. Wrinkles, sagging skin, and dry skin are all indicators of the aging process. The skin tends to become thinner with age. This causes older people to have pale, translucent skin. The number of pigment, or color-containing, cells decreases.
The color-containing cells that are left tend to get bigger and group together. This is the cause of age spots, sometimes known as liver spots though they have nothing to do with the liver, that commonly appear on elderly skin, especially on skin that has been exposed to the sun. To many individuals, these can be unpleasant changes.
The number of sweat glands in the skin is decreased with age. This causes the elderly to sweat less, which, in turn, makes the ability to regulate body temperature more difficult in hot weather. Because of this, elderly people are more likely to develop heat emergencies, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. At the same time, there is less blood flow to the skin. This makes the skin of the elderly cooler to the touch.
The decreased number of sweat glands and oil glands in the skin also causes drier, scalier skin that may be itchy as well. The skin also loses its strength and elasticity, or ability to stretch. This makes the skin less able to smooth out, which may be part of the reason why wrinkles and sagging skin affect the elderly.
Another change with age is that a person's skin will bruise more easily. This occurs because the blood vessels in the skin become fragile and bleed easily. This skin change begins earlier in women than in men. The layer of fat under the skin also becomes thinner with age. This is part of the reason for the thin, lean appearance of older people. It also contributes to loosening and wrinkling of the skin.
This loss of fat also means a person has less natural insulation. An older person is at greater risk for a low body temperature, or hypothermia, when exposed to cold. The combined effects of skin aging can cause increased bruising and skin tears, even from minor injuries.
Older people are also prone to getting damage to skin that receives a high amount of pressure for long periods of time. Wounds in older people may heal 4 to 5 times more slowly than in younger people.
Skin disorders are also more likely with age. More than 90% of the geriatric population will have some type of skin condition. Environmental factors and inherited factors are a frequent cause of skin changes. The sun is a major culprit in causing skin damage, though many other diseases can also cause skin changes.
Sun damage can be easily seen in a person by comparing sun-exposed skin with areas that do not get sunlight. Unexposed skin tends to be very elastic and smooth. Skin that has had a lot of exposure to the sun is dry, wrinkled, and sagging. A leathery, weather-beaten appearance of the skin is often seen in people who have worked outside or spent a lot of time outdoors during their lives. Exposure to sunlight has been proven to increase the risk of skin cancer, which is most commonly seen in the elderly.