Paper Thin Skin Tears Easily

It is not unusual for a patient to see me with 3 or 4 bandages on his or her arms from insignificant bumps that lead to large tears of their skin. Thinning of the skin is a serious problem for some elderly patients. But what can you do about it?

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As we age, the thick collagen layer of the skin (the layer that leather is made from) atrophies or thins out. This is due to normal aging processes where breakdown of collagen and elastin (the proteins that makes skin spring back when stretched) is not balanced with production of new collagen and elastin.

This loss of collagen is accelerated by ultraviolet light damage. Ultraviolet light, which is a form of radiation from the sun, leads to a gradual but relentless destruction of the collagen and elastin in the skin. Thin, tissue paper-like skin occurs mostly on the arms and hands —  two areas that have very high levels of exposure to ultraviolet light over a lifetime. Here in the US, the left arm is usually worse than the right; this is from a lifetime of exposure from the driver’s side window when driving.

The only thing that can be done for thin skin is to minimize damage before it is too late. This is especially important on the forearms and hands. The best way to do this is to wear long sleeves. Long sleeve shirts provide excellent protection from ultraviolet light damage (even plain cotton is an excellent sun barrier, probably better than any sunscreen). When long sleeves are not practical, then applying a broad spectrum sunscreen (that blocks both UVA as well as UVB light) is a good alternative. Sunscreens need to be reapplied every 4 hours to give good protection.

Once thinning of the skin has developed, there is little that can be done to reverse it. Again, wearing long sleeves is helpful because the clothing protects the skin from tears from minor bumps or scrapes.

Dry skin is also more susceptible to damage. Applying a thick moisturizing cream twice a day can help keep your skin protected. Minimizing washing with soap can also help preserve the natural oils on your skin, protecting it from further damage.

Eating a diet high in lean protein and getting adequate calories can also be helpful in maintaining your skin’s strength and in helping it repair quickly when a tear develops.

Lastly, avoid using topical steroids for longer than necessary — topical steroids hasten thinning of the skin and can make the problem worse. Fortunately, thinning of the skin from steroids is reversible and will improve after the steroids are stopped.

71 thoughts on “Paper Thin Skin Tears Easily

  1. Great blog. I just turned 80, am in good health, run, swim and work out reglarly. Now using Neutragena SPF 40 or higher and for midday ocean swimming, Shishiedo waterproof sunscreen. (Which is almost impossible to remove after swimming.) Blue eyes, silver (formerly black or dark brown)hair and pale skin. Like several others who have posted questions on this blog, my skin is paper thin and will bruise or tear and bleed after even minor bumps. Thanks, Aloha and, again, this is a great blog.

    Is there any way by diet or by rubbing oil or other substances on the skin to restore its leather-like qualities? I remember, way back when I worked for a while digging ditches and got blisters on my palms, the boss told me to pee on them. It seemed to toughen them up. I’d like to do something now to “toughen up” my skin generally, especially the arms, legs and the backs of my hands. I’d appreciate any suggestions you might offer.

  2. Great blog. I just turned 80, am in good health, run, swim and work out reglarly. Now using Neutrogena SPF 70 and for midday ocean swimming, Shiseido waterproof sunscreen SPF 55. (Which is almost impossible to remove after swimming.) Blue eyes, silver (formerly black or dark brown)hair and pale skin. Like several others who have posted questions on this blog, my skin is paper thin and will bruise or tear and bleed after even minor bumps. Thanks, Aloha and, again, this is a great blog.

    Is there any way by diet or by rubbing oil or other substances on the skin to restore its leather-like qualities? I remember, way back when I worked for a while digging ditches and got blisters on my palms, the boss told me to pee on them. It seemed to toughen them up. I’d like to do something now to “toughen up” my skin generally, especially the arms, legs and the backs of my hands. I’d appreciate any suggestions you might offer.

  3. I’ve been searching the web and going around to skin doctors and others concerning the skin on my hands, arms, legs which get blood marks & nicks from any pressure and also my skin rips off and I have scars. I also get red marks on my face and neck maybe where my granddaughter pressed. I just turned 60 – am very active and healthy except for knees and this. I have been taking B complex, C & K for collegen buildup and have been on a vegan diet for 1-1/2 yrs & vegetarian for 25 yrs. I lost about 30 lbs unintentionally on the vegan diet. I had some high porphyrins reading on 7CP and CP I & II. The article mentions 3 or 4 bandaids – I cant put bandaids because the adhesive pulls on my skin and causes a red buising. Any suggestions

  4. I’m using tretinoin 0.025% cream on the backs of my hands every night, as well as using waterproof sunscreen each morning. My derm says in about 6 months I’ll see thicker skin on the backs of my hands.

    Obviously this isn’t practical to use in multiple areas but the hands take the most abuse and I want to thicken that skin.

  5. I am only 50 and I have had this skin condition for a couple of years. Was treated daily with steroids for a year,when I was 9 yrs old in Europe. I assume that there is nothing now that I can do for my skin…

  6. Ok what about people that is not yet out of teen age and want to make thier skin s tough every where and theres is not much if any thing that can possibly damage it thats what i would like to have nothing impossible thats the way i belive so if any one knows what to eat and what i have to put my self trough please tell me im good with dieting been doing it for almost 2yrs now and i barley if ever get off maby 4 times a month so please i now thers a way just got to try thanks

  7. Hi,

    I recently suffered from some liver problems(all better now), but I was taking Lasix and Aldactone for swelling from the liver. Now my skin is paper thin and tears as soon as a slight injury occurs. I have also lost most of my hair. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks

  8. @Maureen Schweiker Hi,
    I just wanted to let you know how I bandage myself when injury occurs. I am only 50, but due to steriods, I have this issue. When I have a tear. I use antibiotic ointment, or u can use vaseline (md i know says it is ok) over the wounded area, then use a guaze pad, then get some stuff called Coban. It is a self-sticking thin flesh colored type gauze that you can wrap around an arm or leg. It will not stick to your skin and will not cause injury. I use it all the time and it works great.

  9. @kim sause
    Kim, I want to thank you for your input regarding how you deal with your thin skin. I am only 57 and have been going through these discouraging occurrences often. I can bump the back of my hand on something, forget about it, then later find I have a blood spot at the surface of my
    hand(s), which generally take at least a week to disappear. There was one day that I just burst out crying to my husband saying, I’m getting “old people” spots and tears! I guess we young people are not exempt to these incidents. There is no way I can monitor my hand movements every second of the day, so I just have to deal with it. I just had a major tear on top of my hand, and a gentleman said that if I put some neosporin on it and a band aid, for a couple of days, it would heal more quickly. I took his advice and am hoping/praying this will mend quickly. Thanks, again, Debbie 8/20/09

  10. I have the very same problem…there is a product on the market (CVS) that is called Bruise Relief…not sure it works , but will give it a try. I bruise so easily and it takes 3 weeks to go away..

    Can excessive use of Excedrin have anything to do with it?

  11. September 21st, 2009 at 16.49

    For a few years now I have had thin skin which might be due to using an inhaler for asthma and having to take methotrexate tablets for rheumatoid arthritis. I think somebody said a while ago that it could be due to these tablets. It is very annoying. I am 67 (just) and any slight knock on the back of my hands or forearms especially will result in a red bruise which takes about a week or more to fade. My skin on the front of my legs damages very easily and will bleed quite badly if I knock them.

    I wish there was something that would help toughen my skin as it can be quite a problem and makes me quite nervous and I try to be careful most of the time.

  12. I’m only 22 and my skin is so thin…I’ll probably be 35 and have skin ripping all over the place :( Kill me now

  13. I’m having a problem with bandaids tearing my skin. I’m having numerous questionable moles removed, primarily from my back. I put a bandaid over the stitches, but when I change bandaids, the adhesive pulls my skin and I’m ending up with worse scars from the bandaids than from the stitches! I’ve tried Curad’s sensitive skin bandaids, and they’re a little better, but still tear my skin after a few days. The Coban might work on my arms, but most of these moles have been on my back. Any help will be appreciated!!

    • My wife and I have found Nexcare bandages, available at CVS, work the best on thin skin wounds. They do not tear our skin when you remove them, and they protect the wound pretty good against water. We put a dab of Neosporin on the gauze portion and that keeps that part from tearing the clot away. They are not cheap bandages, but they are worth it.

  14. @Sue
    My husband has the same problem with band-aids. I finally had to have special ones ordered at Wal-mart. They are made by Curad, and are for sensitive skin. Hope this helps.

  15. I have had this problem for about a year and never realized that so many peolpe had the same problem as I. I am 60 and just retired on May 1 and wanted to find something to help me with this but have been told by my doctiors that there isn’t anything that can be done. I just got a rip in the back of my right hand from a friend shaking my hand not good at all. with all todays technology oyu woudl think some one coudl come up with something to help us out!

  16. @Debbie Shesgreen
    I’m almost 56, and have the arms of an 80-yr-0ld, or at least that’s what I think. I hate the red spots that occur if my itches, and I scratch; or if I unintentionally scrape against something, and immediately it turns into a bright red blood vessel damaged area! With all that the internet provides, I’ve been unable to find a complete reason why something that generally plagues indivuals in their 80′s+, should be happening to me! Wear a long-sleeve shirt? What else can I do, unless I just accept the ugly red spots on my arms, which I’m not ready to do!

  17. I know just how you feel but I too am unable to find the help I need. There has to be something that we can do!

  18. My 80 year old father-in-law has very thin skin which often times tears easily if bumped. His arms also bruise easily. He is on cumadin for a recent stroke and also Dilantin for a seizure he had within the last month. He protected his arms in the past by wearing long sleeves and wore a welding arm sleeve cover while driving. He often says, “All I have to do is looke at a door jam and get a bruise or tear.” We use Nivea Lotion for his body daily and Derma Cerin for his dry feet. Is there something better to use on his arms to promote healing the thin skin on his arms?

  19. i have had thin skin for last three years never realize i had it now my legs swollen so much the skin breaks i am now 72 years old put bruise very easily also get blood spots on my hands what can i do

  20. I have been using a product that my Doctor asked me to try to help with the thin skin on the back of my hands and so far it is helping a lot. It is Derma E DMAE Alpha Lipoic C-Ester. I have been using it on my right hand and another cream Epicream skin barrier emulsion on my left hand, recomended by my dermatologest,for about 1 month now to see witch one works best. Both are helping but the left still tears, not as bad, but the right seems to be doing a lot better. Both still bruise but if I do tear one it seems to heal faster and doesn’t bleed as much as before. I will keep everyone posted as to how this is working out as I get a few more months of use. The Derma E DMAE Alpha Lipoic C-Ester can be bought on line for about $13, that’s 2oz and I use it twice a day morning and evening, at Vitacost.com, don’t know if it can be found any place else or not. Worth a try and like I said I will update when I know more about how it’s working for me. I was also told to be sure and use a good sun screen when out side.
    I do know there has to be something that can be done for us that have this problem and maybe we can help each other find that help.

  21. One other thing I have been doing is taking about 50mg of protein per day in whey protein isolates. I have been using the Gold Standard brand from the same place as the Derma E DMAE, I know I can get in locally but I just ordered it since I was ordering and it saved me shipping pluss it is a little chepper ordering on line. The cookies and cream is really good!
    It is now March 29 and I am amazed at the results I am getting so far so good! I will keep posted as to more results.

  22. I have been taking prednisone for about a year and as a weight lifter always had tough skin. I just recently found that the slighest bump would cause a blood spot on forarms and top of hands only. Basically this is spread blood particles under the skin that makes you look 100 years old. Being a minister of music and working with the public , I needed to find a way to get rid of the spots quickly. If you will e-mail me at jryevols@comcast.net , I will tell you how to make them go away very quickly. This is not a way to make you pay for anything. I would never charge anyone to help them , because God has always been so good to me , but this really works….

    Thanks

    Jim

  23. My thin skin started when I was 40, Im 52 now and I have to wrap my forearms with gauze and tape every morning, otherwise, I bleed all night on my bed because I scratched myself on the bed covers. I am so upset over this ,,, I use long sleeves here in texas with the hell hot coming on…I dont think I can stand it one more summer ,,,,does anyone have some kind of help,,, an old man down at walmart has arm guards for socker that he protects his forearms with,,,is this my future ???

    • Hello,
      I too live in Texas, not by choice, but I have daughters that will not move. I have to wear long sleeves in this hot weather. My lower arms are real bad.
      I know the feeling, and did you know it is hotter in Texas than Arizona? It is this humidity.

  24. Just to let ya all know how I have been doing over the last month. I still bruise some and the skin will tears but not bad and the bleeding doesn’t go on for days like before. Cuts heal a lot faster then before. I have even beem able to start wearing jeans again without the feer of putting my hands in the pockets and pulling the skin off the back of them when I pull my hands out. I really think the protein is the key to my progress along with the skin creams I have been using. I hope this helps some of you as it has me. Bless you all I know how bad it gets!

  25. I was told by my physician to try Arnica tablets that you can get at a health food store. I did find some Vitamin K lotion that has arnica in it so I will keep you posted on how well it does/doesn’t work. Like many of you, it is getting hot in Central Alabama and wearing long sleeves in 90+ weather isn’t a good option for me.

  26. Hi everyone, Im posting to keep this thread alive. I think I might have the same problem as you and also think that we can help each other out, like some other poster said. I have had many previous skin problems such as acne, wrinkles and herpes that I have managed to cure 100% by information that I found online and in books. My eczema has also improved albeit not totally gone yet. Basically, I have been on the Paleo diet, which I think has been the major reason for my healing. But now I think it need some modifications. Cheers.

  27. Well it’s been 2 months since I last posted and I wanted to get back to everyone and let you all know how it was going with me. I am doing very good and haven’t had any problems in 2 months now so I think I have found the answer I needed for the problem I was having. I wish and pray that everyone else could be so easy to take care of but I know we are all differant. I will keep you all in my prayers. Bless you all.

  28. I’m just researching thin skin. All of your comments are wonderful.

    And I’m researching thin skin because mine seems to have become worse. I’ve always been the person that misquitos flock to. Tiki torch thing, don’t need them at your party, invite me.

    I’ve also worked hard since I was twelve (now I’m 48) and my hands and arms have huge veins sticking up if I’m not off work for a day or two. BP is fine though since I went from 162 lbs to 113 lbs in 5 months. But, the parts I work with have sharp flash (plastics factory) and I’ll get those red slashes that make some people think it’s an Aids thing. NO, hubby and I have been faithful to each other for 20 years, this is just thin skin that has gotten thinner. And today I got the scrape over one of the veins and bled like crazy even though it was the most miniscule of nicks. Had blood dripping and curling around my wrist, for heaven’s sake.

    Again, just searching for solutions.

  29. @Larry Wells
    Appreciate this info…need some help!!!! Terrifying to have “elderly skin” at 60–mine tears if I scratch or bump my forearms, and I wake up with bruises and bleeds under the skin just when I think it’s better. I have tried that Bruise Relief product mentioned earlier. without much notable result.

  30. PROARMS UV COOL ARM PROTECTOR, MIRACLE TYPE

    8 COLOR CYCLING ARM COOL WARMERS COOLERS FREE SHIPPING

    These are on ebay and they are great

    For around the house I get Hanes over the calf tube socks.
    I cut out the toes and the fit really well.

    I have bought so many things that didn’t work so I am so glad that I stumbled on to them at ebay and that I thought about the Hanes socks much sooner..

    • Pauline, I am soooo happy that you recommended the PRO ARMS UV cool protectors!! I can garden again without leaving a bloody trail.
      I also bought some warm up suit pants at a thrift store and cut the lining out. They are thin enough to wear when it’s hot and that way I don’t kill my legs, too. You can also get scrubs pants and wear them!

      • OOPs, I forgot to mention that it is helpful to get 2 or 3 pair (they are cheap) so you can wash them out. They withstand bleach and wear well- so lightweight!

  31. Larry Wells :Well it’s been 2 months since I last posted and I wanted to get back to everyone and let you all know how it was going with me. I am doing very good and haven’t had any problems in 2 months now so I think I have found the answer I needed for the problem I was having. I wish and pray that everyone else could be so easy to take care of but I know we are all differant. I will keep you all in my prayers. Bless you all.

    I just ordered the serum and am hoping for the best. Thanks Larry for posting this.

  32. Thanks to everyone — I am glad to know I am not the only one with this problem. I will be trying out Larry’s cream and protein solution. Margaret

  33. I am 53 years old and have been having issues with my skin for the past 5 or 6 years. I bleed from things I never feel and often have blotches from under the skin bleeding. I recognize this as a problem with elderly people but don’t quite classify myself as that yet!

  34. After reading all this comments-I guess we are all in the same boat. What I did: I went to the shoe repair shop-if they make shoes it most likely would be better, anyway I had ‘sleeves’ made for each arm, from the wrist to just below the the crease in the forearm. They work fine and since I wear long sleeve shirts no one knows. The sleeves were closed with velcro; they are especially useful when fishing and hiking. I had two sets made. bc

  35. I also have a thin skin problem: my forearms bruise easily, and the skin tears easily if I just bump it. I don’t have a solution for the tearing (yet), but the bruising can be fairly rapidly alleviated by applying arnica gel several times daily. Years ago my daughter was undergoing plastic surgery on her face, and her surgeon recommended she take arnica montana tablets for several days prior to and after the surgery. She hardly bruised at all, and seemed to heal much faster. The tablets are inconvenient for me, but the gel works pretty well.

  36. don’t really know why, i have this “thin skin” issue. i feel my ‘inside body” has ben 20 + yrs older than my actual age. ur “comments have helped knowing there’s nothing 2 change/fix i recently took lights frm a tree, and my left hand.arm is totally beyond looking @ really bad anywhy w/long sleeve . . tks

  37. Hi Everyone, I would just like to say Thanks to the ones that have posted ideas relating to thinning skin and the problems that go with it, I had never dealt with it until my Mom who had it, passed away in August. Unbelievably just after she passed I got it, my dr. says its just stress— who knows but at 63, I now have it.
    Thanks to all of you I now have some solutions I can try, and this is not the end of the world for me, I will keep in contact as to how some of these ideas work out with me.
    Again “Thank You”, and so glad there is a place that we can go to find others with the same problems, also good ideas on how to help.

  38. Thank you everyone. I have to take Dexamethason( steroid) everyday as I have Addison’s Disease. About 6 months back my endocrinologist increased my dose because I was experiencing more adrenal problems. I started getting the red spots on my arms first, then I noticed how easily I would get scratched & bleed without even knowing it happened. I told my endo doc this and he decreased the dosage a little bit & said to take more Vitamin C. I’ve done that for maybe a month now and I don’t see any changes yet but maybe it’s too soon.Last week I had a line of dry blood on my leg that I didn’t know was there until I undressed. It scared the heck out of me & my husband. I must of hit my leg or possibly a vericlose vein broke. I have lots of them on my legs. I’m 63 years old but had good skin until the increase in the daily steroid.
    I appreciate all the info I’ve read here and I’m going to try it.
    Does anyone experience a funny feeling on the top of skin up from the ankle? Sometimes it feels like it’s burning and sometimes it feels like the skin is pulled to tight around the area.
    The body is so weird!

    • Pamela,

      I am 62 and have thinning skin on both hands palms and fingers, with eczema on my right hand. However, I also have had the sensations of burning and tight skin on my thighs and buttocks. These sensations have been very sporadic for nearly 20 years. I have many non life threatening health conditions: IBS, migraines, restless legs,rashes on my face. About 5 years ago I developed scalp psorisis and the eczema on my hands. For 20 years I have been on antidepressants. If I go off them I see the glass half empty. I developed the psorisis and eczema after a bout of strong antibiotics due to a staph infection. The medical community has yet to discover solutions to these problems. I take good care of myself and appear fit and healthly.

  39. Great comments, ideas and exchanges! My husband who is 51 and epileptic has had this problem for nearly 2 yrs now. I haven’t seen him without his arm(s)being bandaged in ages. He’s embarrased routinely. I kept thinking he’s too young for this; there must be something we can do to “toughen up” his skin. Additionally, he “bets himself up” during siezures and this worries me about the healing process, his medications etc. I will definitely try your ideas. None of it appears to cause damage if it doesn’t work, I’ll double check for interactions; so, its worth a try! Thanks for sharing. God Bless you all.

  40. Hello to all,
    I have had this thin skinning going on for over 10 years, I am now 62 years young.
    Have asked all my doctors over the above time about the blood pooling in the skin from miniscule bumps and even just bumping my wristwatch against something, ahha….large red bleeding under the immediate surface. Today I shaved my lower legs, had not been doing this for 4 months as was afraid of nicks.
    Well, the legs bled in little rounded spots and I went to the internet.
    Have never taken steriods, have not had acne or eczema any time, minimal sun exposure but am quite frightened that if I had to have any surgery or was involved in an accident, that my skin would not be able to be sutured for a repair/recovery.
    Can anyone in Victoria, Australia help with advice, a proven topical treatment/cream or with some type of diet.
    I eat lean proteins, heaps of vegies, drink tea, some dairy foods, could be considered a teetotaller, keep weight right for height and age, am active and considered slim.
    HELP ! HELP! HELP1111

  41. I have been reading all your comments regarding thinning skin. I now have a list of the things to try for this problem…I will let you know if any of it works for me.

  42. I read recently that emu oil will help thicken skin. You have to get it at a organic food store that carries various vitamins, etc. I haven’t made it to the one in Beaumont, Tx as yet, but plan going this next week. Also pick up some vitamin K. Organics may cost a little more than what they carry at Wal-Mart or CVS, but I think it is worth it. Another thing is to bathe or shower in filtered water. We at one time had it and I could tell the difference in my skin and hair. All the chemical they put in our water today has a horrible effect on our bodies causing hair loss and these same skin problems. Culligan charges around $80 every 3 mos, but you decide if you can afford it. Maybe just the Vit. K and pure Emu oil will do. I’m 63 yrs. old.

  43. Hi Larry Wells or anyone who might know… Is it the Derma E DMAE Alpha Lipoic C-Ester serum or retexturizing creme that helped your skin?

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