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?


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. Thank you for all your input on treatment of thin skin on my hands and arms. I will try a few and let you know if I’m having any luck. Thanks again!

  2. I thought I was the only young person to have this problem. Since i was thirty ,Ive had thinning skin and blood bumps. Larry thank for all your input. I am now 50 , relief would be great. The doctors I have talked to , never gave me any sugestions.

  3. I noticed skin on my arms thinning about the same time I was on Entocort. Is there a connection?

  4. I am 51 and my arm have gotten very embarrassing and very worrysome. I remember my mother in law’s arms doing the same but at a much older age than me. i am wondering, I have had a thyroid goiter in my neck for 4 yrs and dr has never done a biposy, just ultrasounds to check for nodules but have just moved and i am seeing a new dr on the 10th of aug. my concern is that my thyroid is causeing this at a younger age as my skin is very dry since the thyroid problems and wondering if anyone knows if this is part of the cause? My mother was muc older than me when hers started also. if anyone has more info on this side of the problem please let me know and I will post after i visit the ENT on the 10th. Thank you for your time ,Donna

  5. I have been asking my doctor about this problem and getting no answers. I have been looking online and until today, found nothing. I guess I finally found the right words to use. “thin skin”. But unlike most of you, I have not shown any unusual bruising even though I take two ld aspirin every day. I am only 61 and this problem started only about 6 months ago. I have lupus and have taken a lot of steroids in the last 15 years, not so much now for lupus as previously but I still use steroid inhalers for sinusitis and asthma. Do I understand right that my earlier years of steroid use has done most of the damage? My problem area is the back of my hands. I almost always have a nickel size painful abrasion from some unknown cause. It looks the skin has almost been pulled off. And I never have a clue when or how it happened. I am suspecting digging in my purse, putting hands in pockets or putting clothes away in a full drawer. I’ll read on looking for helpful medical solutions but I also need practical advice on stopping it. I am going through a lot of bandaids yes but it is also painful once the simple peeled skin becomes an angry red abrasion.

  6. course,each time hands in water.Olive oil good,but gressy ,i also have the thin skin,it is allfull just a little thorn can make us bleed,so much.
    My Dr,said this is good.
    I do find,cream last thing at night,

  7. My wife’s skin is so thin that just a bump into a wall will either cause her skin to break open, tear open or leave a bruise. Granted she is a 40 year cancer survivor, 58 yrs old, had heart surgury for aortic valce replacement in 10/2009 so she is supremely challenged. I just can’t get her to understand that she must be careful. I have several personally prepared 1st Aid kits and they are not enough and the aftermath of a skin tear is blood and bleeding for days due to the blood thinner. You’re right there is no issue with thin skin except on her hands and arms, she does bruise easily everywhere on her body. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  8. I’m a 69 yr. old male with alot of tearing of skin on my right arm from the elbow down to wrist and slight tearing on left arm. Outdoors alot with sports in my younger years. It never all goes away. when one starts to clear up another one appears.

  9. Does Alcoholism contribute to thinning of the skin? Is there a corolation between these two problems, does the liver have any contributing factor to thinning of the skin?

    • Thanks for the questions. No, alcoholism does not cause thinning of the skin. It can cause dilating of blood vessels which brings the vessels up near the surface of the skin. No, the liver doesn’t contribute to thinning of the skin.

  10. If I bomp anything my skin turns black and blue or bleeds, I work in a kitchen an I am hitting my arms all day, when I come home I look like I’ve been in a horrible fight, is there anything that I can do to help my thin skin? I am 65 years and this has been going on for the last 4 years, I just hate it, I try to were long sleeves but sometimes I just can’t, it’s so inbaresing

    • Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. Wearing long sleeves as often as possible is always a good idea. There are no treatments currently available to thicken thin, papery skin. Best to you.

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