Call it what you will: elephant skin, paper-thin skin or grandma skin—it’s all the same, and it’s all crepey. “Crepey skin is one of the most difficult signs of skin aging to prevent because it has so many different causes and can occur on so many different parts of the body,” says New York dermatologist Macrene Alexiades, MD. But, just because your skin is starting to have a mind of its own and lacks the firmness it used to have, doesn’t mean you have to live with it like that.
Why Your Skin Ages
As you enter your 40s, the thinning of your skin accelerates. This isn’t a change you’ll see overnight—it’s likely to take weeks, or even months, for the texture of your skin to transform. Melbourne, FL, dermatologist Anita Saluja, MD, says there are a few elements that cause skin to become crepey. “The sun, a loss of collagen and elastin, and a decline in moisture due to aging, can all cause changes in texture.” Crepey skin becomes more pronounced when there’s a significant amount of fat loss in the area (from aging or weight loss). “Chronic use of medications like steroids can also be a causative factor,” adds Dr. Saluja. A decrease in female hormones, which leads to dry skin, contributes to crepiness on the arms and thighs more so than the face. Hormonal replacement therapies may help improve the look of the skin.
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What it Looks Like
Skin that has turned crepey is thin, loose and flaccid with a certain degree of sagging. Sacramento, CA, dermatologist Suzanne Kilmer, MD, says that crepey skin doesn’t look nearly as thick or plump as younger skin does. Often compared to the thinness of a piece of paper or a crêpe, it’s the thinning of the dermis and epidermis that make skin look like this. “Crepey skin differs from other types of skin aging,” says Dr. Alexiades. “It first appears as an increase in skin markings, which look like little dots around the hair follicle that start to merge into linear or diamond-shaped marks and connect the dots together.” Over time, the subtle creases and pores in the skin slowly become exaggerated as the breakdown of collagen and elastin becomes more evident. From there, skin folds accumulate and skin starts to thin out. Whereas a stretch mark is the cause of a dermal tear in the skin and a loss of elastin, and a wrinkle forms from repeat motions in one area, crepey skin is more so the result of a lack of skin thickness.
Who it Effects
Everyone is susceptible to crepey skin, but some skin tones and types are more likely to experience it than others. Anyone who’s prone to sun damage and has little melanin in their skin—think fair- and lighter-toned types—and those who bake in the sun or use tanning beds, may see signs of it faster or more intensely. Certain ethnicities, such as Latinas, African Americans and Asians, inherently have thicker skin than others, which may hinder the effects of crepiness to some degree.