Thin Skin: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment of Thin Skin

The main reason for the development of fragile, thin skin, in extreme cases also called parchment skin, is very old age. With age, the dermis becomes thinner due to the loss of collagen, the most important extracellular proteins in the body. Furthermore, the elasticity of the skin decreases due to a lack of elastin, a protein that occurs in the connective tissue in your body and that has elastic properties. Hydration also decreases due to a decrease in the amount of the body’s own hyaluronic acid, a substance known for its ability to attract up to a thousand times its weight in moisture. This aging process is very normal. There is less and less collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid formation in the aging body, all of which are extremely important for the maintenance of the skin.

  • The skin is the largest organ
  • The skin in a bird’s eye view
  • When does the skin look beautiful?
  • Symptoms of thin skin
  • Phenomena
  • Aging skin
  • Causes of thin skin
  • Old age
  • Medicines
  • Underlying diseases
  • External factors
  • Complications
  • Consult your GP
  • Diagnosis and course
  • Treatment of thin skin
  • Self-care measures of thin skin
  • Do not let the skin dry out
  • Skin care
  • Diet and nutritional supplements
  • Prognosis
  • Prevention


Human skin up close / Source: Paperxcrip: Helena Paffen, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

The skin is the largest organ

The skin is the largest organ in humans; in an adult male or female it is almost two square meters in size with a weight of roughly 20 kg. One square centimeter contains 15 sebaceous glands, 100 sweat glands, 3000 nerve cells, 1 meter of blood vessels and several million cells. The skin protects the internal organs, muscles and bones from external damage; it protects body tissues from injury. The skin holds the body together and marks a clear boundary with the environment. It acts as a protective shield against viruses, bacteria and fungi, heat, sun, cold and attacks. This protective wall or barrier is also extremely active. The skin produces vitamin D from the sun’s rays and transports water and fat to the organism. The skin filter can be used medicinally by locally applying creams, oils, lotions or by taking therapeutic baths. Hormone patches or nicotine patches work through the skin. The skin helps regulate body temperature by making the pores larger or smaller. The nerves in the skin receive stimuli that are then interpreted by the brain as touch, heat and cold. Nerve cells in the skin also inform the brain about pain stimuli.

The skin in a bird’s eye view

Here are some facts about the skin:

  • The skin is the largest organ in our body and weighs approximately 2.7 kilograms in an adult.
  • The skin has three layers: the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the middle layer) and the hypodermis (the inner layer).
  • The epidermis is the layer of the skin that you see and feel. It also contains the cells that produce melanin, which determines skin color.
  • The dermis contains collagen and elastin, which give the skin firmness and elasticity.
  • The subcutaneous tissue contains fat cells that insulate and protect your body.
  • The skin constantly renews itself and replaces old skin cells with new ones. This process takes approximately 28 days.
  • The skin can be damaged by excessive exposure to sunlight, which can lead to skin cancer and premature aging.
  • The skin contains sebaceous glands that produce sebum, which protects and hydrates the skin. When these glands become clogged, it can lead to acne.
  • The skin is sensitive to touch, temperature, pain and pressure through nerve endings.
  • The skin can develop several conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. It is important to regularly check the skin for changes and to treat any skin problems in a timely manner.


When does the skin look beautiful?

The skin is considered beautiful if the pores, which are very small openings in the skin, the sweat or sebaceous glands underneath are small, if there are no rashes, pimples or boils, if it reflects light evenly, contains a little sebum , shiny and radiant (but not shiny) and shows few wrinkles. Too much sebum on the skin is often experienced as unaesthetic as dry skin. You get oily skin when your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum. Many people do not have beautiful skin (locally) and suffer from skin conditions or other skin complaints, such as thin skin . This can affect your quality of life.

1=stratum corneum
1+2=epidermis3=dermis (dermis)4=subcutis / Source: Nordelch, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)” onclick=”openImage(this);”>Cross section of human skin1=stratum corneum1+ 2=epidermis3= dermis
4=subcutis / Source: Nordelch, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Symptoms of thin skin


Thinning skin is characterized by a decrease in skin thickness in certain areas of the body. When your skin becomes thinner, you are more likely to experience itching and tension in the affected areas; In addition, the skin dries out faster than normal. Even small scratches can cause bleeding and the thinning skin easily becomes inflamed. Due to the reduced skin thickness, the affected skin areas are particularly susceptible to injuries. Various pathogens can also penetrate the skin more easily in areas of the skin that have become thinner. The parts of the skin that are somewhat thinner may also be slightly red in color.

Aging skin

As the skin ages, cell metabolism in the epidermis (the epidermal tissue) slows down and the body produces fewer lipids (fatty substances). The skin becomes rougher and dries out. Wrinkles form and the skin is more sensitive to UV radiation, wounds heal more slowly and the body is less able to fight infections. The percentage of collagen in the dermis (dermis) decreases by 1% per year. The subcutaneous tissue becomes less elastic and has less blood supply. The skin loses its rosy hue and wrinkles appear. You gradually get thinner skin, causing the skin to lose its contour. It becomes duller and paler.

Causes of thin skin

Thin skin is often the result of aging, but it can also be a symptom of an underlying disease or condition.

Old age

Your skin ages as the years go by and therefore also becomes thinner. You cannot stop this process, but you can slow it down. For the skin, aging means that the skin papillae or dermal papillae between the epidermis and the dermis change. Blood vessels in these papillae supply the epidermis with nutrients, oxygen and moisture. In young people these papillae are close together and long; the skin is plump and smooth. In older people, the papillae flatten and decrease in number. The older you get, the less collagen and elastin the body produces, which means the skin loses its elasticity: you get wrinkles. Nutrients and oxygen now have difficulty reaching the top layer of the skin: your skin looks dull.
Skin thickness noticeably decreases with age, with women particularly affected by the changes in hormonal balance during menopause .

Some medications (unintentionally) cause thin skin / Source: Stevepb, Pixabay


The use of certain medications can also have a side effect of thinning the skin (in the areas where the ointment is applied). The use of dermatocorticosteroids (hormone ointment) can have side effects such as:

  • an increase in small blood vessels
  • thin skin
  • depigmentation

However, these skin changes only occur with long-term use and especially with strong dermatocorticosteroids.
There are several methods of administration of corticosteroids, in addition to dermal (for skin conditions), these are:

  • oral
  • inhalatory (breathing in via an aerosol or powder)
  • intravenously (via an IV)
  • as eye drops
  • per injection

You can also get thin skin due to the drug sulfasalazine, which inhibits inflammation in the intestines, joints and skin. It is prescribed, among other things, for rheumatoid arthritis and the intestinal disease ulcerative colitis.
Prednisone to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, for example, can also lead to smooth, thin skin. Skin atrophy occurs: the skin becomes thinner and the fatty tissue under the skin also reduces.
The use of insulin for diabetes mellitus can also have a negative effect on the skin.

Underlying diseases

Metabolic and circulatory disorders can also sometimes be associated with thinned skin. Such an underlying disease can also be recognized by the specific condition of the skin: for example, in liver disease, the thinned skin turns yellow and the mucous membranes and tongue are also affected.
Thinner skin can also indicate Lyme disease. Lyme disease mainly affects the arms and legs. Acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans (ACA) is a skin condition that manifests in the late stages of Lyme disease and usually occurs on the extremities, especially the legs. The skin then turns red to purple, is often slightly thickened at first, and feels warm. After several months or even years, atrophy of the skin occurs and the skin becomes as thin as paper.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to thin skin. The rheumatism patient often has thin skin that is easily damaged.
Thin skin can also occur with Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome is caused by an increased cortisol level.

Smoking accelerates skin aging / Source: Lindsay Fox, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.0)

External factors

There are also external factors that contribute to skin thinning, such as exposure to sunlight, air pollution, but also the consumption of alcohol, smoking and the consumption of too much sugar. Sunlight weakens and dries out the skin, and smoking causes the skin to receive less oxygen and causes collagen and elastin to be broken down. Smoking therefore enhances the natural aging process.


Thin skin refers to a local decrease in skin thickness. Thin skin is often sensitive to light mechanical influences, so that even light scratching can lead to a (bleeding) wound. Carelessness can quickly lead to skin inflammation. Thinning of the skin is often associated with itching and tension, which can significantly limit the quality of life. Itching can lead to sleepless nights, your overall well-being suffers and it affects the quality of life. In addition, thinning of the skin can be a symptom of an existing disease, which can also cause other complaints. Lyme disease, for example, can cause all kinds of complaints, but by treating it as quickly as possible you reduce the risk of long-term complaints.

Consult your GP

For thin skin that is caused by aging and not caused by or related to a health problem, a visit to the doctor is not normally necessary. If you notice that you are frequently bruising or damaging your skin, he or she may want to seek medical advice.
Some medications can cause thin skin. The GP may advise you to stop using the medicine and offer possible alternatives. Never stop taking prescribed medications on your own .
If thinning skin has no obvious cause, it may be helpful to seek medical advice. It may be that lifestyle factors, such as exposure to sunlight or smoking, have made the skin thin.

Consult your doctor if you have thin skin / Source: Michaeljung/

Diagnosis and course

The cause of thinning skin is usually determined based on your symptoms. In addition to an interview with the doctor, during which your medical history is taken into account, the doctor will perform a physical examination. This can lead to the first suspected diagnoses. Depending on the diagnosis, further research methods can then be used. For example, if a bacterial infection is the cause of the thinning of the skin, blood tests may provide further information.
The course of skin thinning depends, among other things, on factors such as the respective causes of the skin changes and the treatment measures that are carried out. The course of symptoms also depends on how he responds to treatment. If an underlying disease is present, the course of the disease and its treatment often also influence the course of the thinning skin

Treatment of thin skin

The treatment of thin skin is mainly based on the underlying cause. In addition to treating the cause, symptomatic treatment of the thinning of the skin can also be performed. If skin changes are accompanied by itching and/or (skin) tension, the application of nourishing and moisturizing substances can help to relieve the symptoms and protect the skin from further dehydration. Acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans is treated with (antibiotic) medication. Autoimmune skin diseases, which can cause skin thinning, generally cannot be cured; however, proper treatment can slow the progression of the disease.

Self-care measures of thin skin

Do not let the skin dry out

If you suffer from thin skin, it is best to use lukewarm water, because water that is too hot will further dry out the skin. It is also preferable not to shower or bathe for too long. Using soft towels and patting your skin dry rather than rubbing are recommended measures. Moisturizing products are recommended when showering. Water-in-oil emulsions are suitable for thin skin and support the balance between oil and moisture. Such products should be free of perfume and alcohol, as both further dry out the skin. Elderly people often forget to drink enough water. Drinking a glass of water often helps to keep your skin hydrated.

Skin care

If the skin is thin, you should be careful to avoid damaging the skin. In this case, mechanical stress worsens the symptoms. For example, you should avoid scratching the affected areas of the skin so that the skin does not tear or become irritated. In this situation, itching should be counteracted by pressure, cooling and proper skin care. There are no products that can strengthen or thicken the skin. However, the use of emollients, such as Vaseline-Cetomacrogol Cream FNA or Vaseline-Lanette Cream FNA, with or without 10% urea, is recommended. Because urea attracts water, it is often used in all kinds of skin care products that keep the skin hydrated. A good vitamin C intake is also important, as collagen production is dependent on vitamin C.

Diet and nutritional supplements

Eating a balanced and healthy diet is important for skin health. Many of the components essential for healthy skin are found in fruits, vegetables, fish, oils and meats. The following nutritional supplements can help prevent skin aging:

  • vitamin C
  • gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), such as in evening primrose oil
  • collagen(peptides)
  • omega-3 fatty acids



Thin skin is a very annoying symptom and even relatively minor external influences can cause major damage to the skin. Scratches or even minor injuries often lead to bleeding and wounds. This can lead to inflammation and infections, which can also cause scars. The thinning of the skin reduces the quality of life. As a result, you can often no longer perform physically demanding work. In addition, permanent itching on the skin often occurs. This can lead to scratching effects. The itching can also lead to sleep complaints. In many cases, thinning of the skin occurs in old age and is a common complaint. Direct treatment is not possible; good skin care is possible.
If acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans, a chronic skin disease in the third stage of Lyme disease, is not recognized early and not treated adequately with antibiotics, the skin will become very thin (atrophic) after years, as thin as paper. The skin is therefore no longer as elastic or stretchable. Once the skin has become thin, it will remain that way even after treatment.


The best way to prevent the occurrence or further progression of skin thinning is through early medical treatment of underlying diseases.

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