Our skin naturally loses some of its structure and elasticity as we age. This can create fine wrinkles or leave the skin feeling loose. While crepey skin can be part of the normal aging process, there are habits we form that can prematurely make it worse.
Not all of these habits are obvious. Knowing what they are can help you form more protective ones. In this article, we’ll start with the basic information you need about the condition. From there, we’ll break down the habits that cause crepey skin, and what you can do to reduce their effect.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is crepey skin?
Crepey skin is when skin thins over time and produces lots of fine wrinkles. These wrinkles have similarities to the ones associated with crepe paper As Dr. Young McMahan, an expert dermatologist and former chief resident at the University of Texas Medical Branch. describes it:
“Crepey skin has very fine lines and wrinkles that give the skin the appearance and texture similar to crepe paper. Crepey skin may also be thin and saggy.”
While crepey skin can appear on any part of the body, it’s most common in areas where the skin is naturally thinner. Crepey skin tends to develop in the following places:
- Under the eyes
- Along the neck
- Upper arms
- Inner thighs
Wrinkles along the eyes and brow naturally form because of muscle contractions over time, which stretch and fold the skin. But these wrinkles appear even when the fibers there are elastic and firm. Crepey skin is the loss of elasticity, and many processes can lead to that loss. Let’s quickly address the big one.
Is crepey skin a natural part of aging?
The simplest answer: yes. Naturally occurring crepey skin starts to appear after the age of 40, generally. That said, it isn’t inevitable, or always a direct result of getting older.
Aging is only the second most common cause of crepey skin, and usually the least impactful. As Dr. McMahan explains:
“The main reason people develop crepey skin is prolonged or excessive exposure to sunlight. We often think of sun damage as just causing the effects we see right away. . .but long-term and cumulative impact of sun exposure can be much more serious.”
And if sun damage is the most common cause, the habits we form around treating it (and not treating it) can make things worse. That’s what we’re addressing today. So what habits contribute to the condition and what can you do to keep your skin looking supple for longer?
Habits that worsen crepey skin
Excessive sun exposure
While everyone needs some level of sunlight for their skin to produce Vitamin D, overexposure presents a lot of harmful effects. The ultraviolet (UV) light in the sun’s rays can damage and even kill skin cells over time. Because of UV light’s high penetration, that damage can reach deeper layers of skin, especially when we ignore preventative measures.
Applying sunscreen and wearing sun-protecting clothing is your best defense against UV exposure when outside. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Look for a “broad spectrum” sunscreen, which will protect you against UVA (cause of wrinkles, age spots, and crepey skin) and UVB (cause of sunburn).
Not hydrating enough
Drinking water doesn’t just keep your body refreshed, it hydrates your skin and helps maintain elasticity. As an organ, your skin uses water to perform vital cellular functions that prevent wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Even in the best weather conditions, adults lose approximately 2.5l to 3l of water a day, which we need to replenish to stay healthy. Excessive heat 一 like being in the sun 一 causes us to lose water at an even faster rate.
Because the skin comes into direct contact with sunlight, it's where our bodies lose moisture first.
Not moisturizing skin
Drinking water is an important habit to develop, but your skin needs extra support to retain that water. A quality moisturizer or body lotion will lock in moisture for longer, keeping the skin from drying out. Skin that locks in moisture looks “fuller” which can smooth out some of the finer wrinkles that show up when we’re dehydrated.
To combat crepey skin, look for moisturizers containing one of the following compounds and oils:
- Hyaluronic acid
- Cocoa butter
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
The food we eat plays a vital role in maintaining overall health, but it can directly affect skincare too. When it comes to preventing wrinkles, our eating habits tend to swing on two factors: free radicals and antioxidants.
Free radicals are unstable oxygen-rich molecules that react easily with other molecules in the body. This reaction itself, called oxidation, is neutral (it's a normal bodily process). Oxidative stress, however, is when there’s an imbalance caused by too many free radicals.
Oxidative stress speeds up the aging process. Its main causes: UV exposure and processed foods high in fats and sugars.
Antioxidants, as the name suggests, are molecules that stabilize free radicals (oxidants) to reduce their reactions. When there’s a balance between free radicals and antioxidants, oxidation can take place at a healthy level. Antioxidant-rich foods include:
- Red cabbage
- Dark leafy greens
- Russet potatoes
- Red kidney beans
Not getting enough sleep
Finally, the natural processes your skin uses to repair sun damage are most productive at night. Melatonin production, the hormone that makes you sleepy, increases in the evening. Your skin uses melatonin to activate antioxidants and repair oxidative damage. Studies have found that melatonin may also increase collagen expression and reduce water loss.
Preventing crepey skin
Sun exposure and aging are the two main causes of crepey skin. That said, we form habits around them that can either limit or increase the damage. With just a few smart adjustments in our daily lives, we can greatly reduce the appearance of crepey skin and maintain that supple, firm appearance for longer.