Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/23/2021
It’s no secret that your skin changes as you get older. From wrinkles to age spots, sagging skin and pigmentation issues, it’s very common and completely normal to notice your skin gradually changing as you enter your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
Skin aging is both intrinsic and extrinsic, meaning that while some aspects of aging are outside of your control, others can be slowed down, stopped or even reversed with the right mix of skin care treatments and good habits.
Below, we’ve explained everything you need to know about aging skin, from how aging affects your skin’s integrity and appearance to the common signs of aging you’ll usually notice as you get older.
We’ve also explained what you can do to treat and prevent skin aging, covering everything from simple changes to your habits to skin care products, medications and cosmetic procedures.
It’s normal for your skin to change as you get older, resulting in wrinkles, age spots and other common signs of aging.
While some skin aging is unavoidable, you can limit the effects of aging on your skin by practicing good habits and limiting your exposure to major sources of skin damage.
One of the most effective ways to limit the effects of aging on your skin is to protect your skin from sunlight, which damages your skin via UV radiation.
Many of the most effective anti-aging products are inexpensive, such as moisturizer and creams that contain prescription retinoids.
Others are more costly and intensive, such as cosmetic procedures designed to prevent or reverse the effects of aging on your skin.
If you’d like to protect your skin and age gracefully, you can talk to a healthcare provider online about your options.
As you get older, it’s normal for your skin to change. Aging affects your skin in numerous ways, from its thickness to its texture, elasticity and ability to recover from injuries.
One major effect of aging on your skin is a change in its thickness. Although your skin has the same number of cell layers throughout your life, as you age, the outer layer of your skin (called the epidermis) gradually becomes thinner.
As it thins, your skin’s structure also starts to change. The connective tissue that makes up your skin becomes weaker and less elastic, resulting in a worn appearance.
It’s not just your skin that gets thinner as you age. Beneath your skin, the subcutaneous fat layer also gradually becomes thinner, reducing the amount of padding under your skin. This changes your appearance and affects your skin’s durability.
Aging also affects the blood vessels in your skin, your skin’s melanocytes (cells responsible for creating pigmentation) and sweat glands. These changes can all affect your skin’s appearance and feel.
While most of the effects of aging on your skin are aesthetic, some can affect your skin’s health and ability to maintain itself.
For example, as you get older, your skin needs more time to repair itself. This means that cuts, scratches and other injuries take longer to heal. In aged skin, wound healing may be up to four times slower than in young, unaged skin.
The effects of aging can also affect your risk of developing certain skin diseases, including skin cancer. Most skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, develop during a person’s 50s, 60s and beyond.
Since your skin is such a visible organ, it’s generally easy to spot the signs of skin aging as they develop. You can look for signs of aging by checking your skin under bright light, such as in your bathroom mirror.
Common signs of aging skin include:
Fine lines and wrinkles. As you get older, it’s normal to develop fine lines and wrinkles in certain areas of your skin. Common locations for wrinkles include your forehead, near your eyes and around your nose and mouth.
Age spots. Solar lentigo, or age spots, are small, dark patches that can develop on your skin as a result of aging. You may notice these on your face, hands and other areas that are frequently exposed to sunlight.
Hyperpigmentation. You may notice that some areas of your skin become darker than others -- an issue referred to as hyperpigmentation. Like other signs of aging, this may affect areas of your skin that are often exposed to sunlight.
Drier skin. As we mentioned above, the outer layer of your skin tends to get thinner as you age. This gives your skin less padding and often contributes to other signs of aging, such as wrinkles.
In addition to thinning, your skin produces less sebum as you get older. This may make your skin drier and more easily irritated.
Sagging. Since your skin becomes less elastic as you age, you may notice sagging that affects your face and skin in other parts of your body. Skin that was previously tight may start to hang loosely.
Rougher skin texture. Since your skin becomes drier and thinner as you age, you may notice a change in its texture. Certain parts of your skin may begin to develop a rougher texture and feel.
Bruising and other skin injuries. The blood vessels in your skin become more fragile as you age. This may increase your risk of developing bruises and other common skin injuries.
Skin tags, warts and other growths. Many types of skin growths, including warts, skin tags, seborrheic keratoses and others, become more common as you age. Some types of skin growths, such as actinic keratosis, have a small risk of developing into cancer.
Great habits are the key to great skin. Since so much of the aging process is extrinsic, living a skin-friendly lifestyle can help you to reduce damage to your skin and make the effects of time much less obvious on your appearance.
Contrary to popular belief, you usually don’t need to make any major changes to your lifestyle to keep your skin protected. Instead, practicing simple habits consistently can have a huge impact on your skin’s health, wellbeing and appearance over time. Try to:
Protect your skin from the sun. UV radiation from the sun can damage your skin and accelerate the aging process. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90 percent of the visible changes that occur in your skin as you age are caused by UV exposure.
The best way to prevent UV-related skin damage is to limit your sun exposure and take steps to protect your skin when you’re outdoors.
You can do this by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and clothing that protects your skin from the sun. Apply broad-spectrum, SPF 30+ sunscreen to exposed skin to make sure it isn’t damaged when you’re out and about in sunny weather.
Moisturize your skin regularly. Moisturizer helps your skin retain water, giving it extra fullness and a more youthful appearance. This makes wrinkles, fine lines and other signs of aging less visible.
For optimal results, apply moisturizer to your skin when it’s slightly damp, such as just after a shower or bath. Our Everyday Moisturizer is designed specifically for use after you shower or shave to lock in moisture without making your skin feel overly oily.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking damages your skin, making wrinkles and other common signs of aging develop faster. One study of smokers and non-smokers even found a clear association between pack-years and severity of facial wrinkling.
If you’re a smoker, quitting may improve the appearance of your skin. Our full guide to quitting smoking explains how you can quit effectively, from creating a plan to making use of smoking cessation medications, free resources and more.
Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can cause your skin to become dry. Over time, drinking alcohol may also damage your skin, increasing the effects of aging on your appearance.
It’s okay to drink alcohol, but make sure that you do so in moderation. Stick to the CDC’s guidelines of up to two alcoholic drinks per day for men, or one per day for women.
Try not to squint. Squinting involves contracting your facial muscles, which may cause fine lines and wrinkles to develop around your eyes. Make sure to wear sunglasses on bright, sunny days, which may make it easier for you to avoid squinting.
Get an annual skin exam. While it won’t help to prevent wrinkles or other signs of skin aging, it’s important to have your skin checked by a dermatologist every year, especially if you have one or more risk factors for skin cancer.
Combined with the right habits, science-based skin care products and medications can help to reduce the effects of aging on your skin. Some products, when used regularly, may even make wrinkles, fine lines and other common signs of aging skin gradually fade over time.
Skin care products and medications used to treat aging include:
Over-the-counter retinoids. Retinoids are common ingredients in skin creams, serums and other products designed to slow down the effects of aging. Popular over-the-counter retinoids include retinol and low-strength adapalene.
Tretinoin. Tretinoin is a prescription topical retinoid. It works by speeding up your skin’s production of new cells. Research shows that tretinoin can improve many signs of aging, including wrinkles, skin texture and age-related changes in your skin’s pigmentation.
Tretinoin is one of several active ingredients in our Custom Anti-Aging Cream. You can learn more about how it works in our complete guide to using tretinoin for wrinkles and skin aging.
A wide variety of cosmetic procedures are used to treat wrinkles, age spots and other common signs of skin aging. These include:
Botulinum toxin (Botox®). This medication is injected directly into areas with wrinkles to reduce their visibility. It works by temporarily weakening or paralyzing the muscles in your face that can contribute to fine lines and wrinkles.
Dermal fillers. These are injected into your skin to soften creases, reduce the visibility of wrinkles and improve contours. You may need to repeat these injections over time to maintain your results.
Skin resurfacing. Several skin resurfacing treatments, such as chemical peeling, laser resurfacing and dermabrasion, are used to treat wrinkles, age spots and other common signs of skin aging.
While some aspects of the aging process are unavoidable, practicing good skin care habits can keep your skin looking its best and help you to age gracefully.
Even if you already have wrinkles or other signs of aging, simple things such as using SPF 30+ sunscreen, moisturizing and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can have a noticeable positive impact on your skin over time.
Similarly, FDA-approved treatments such as retinoids may help to reverse some aspects of the aging process and give your skin a more youthful appearance.
If you’d like to learn more about anti-aging skin care or start using science-based medication to keep your skin in optimal condition as you get older, you can talk to a healthcare provider online about your options.