Senescence in the skin is a gradual process that ultimately results in the appearances and functional differences that we associate with old age. These changes are purely intrinsic. The skin is particularly vulnerable to the ageing effects of a number of environmental insults, especially UV radiation from sun. In women there are additional hormonal changes at the menopause.
Functions of Skin: Contains nerve receptors that allow you to feel touch, pain, and pressure, helps control fluid and electrolyte balance, helps control your body temperature and protects you from the environment.
Effect of ageing on Skin:
1. Sebaceous (oil-producing) glands:
There is atrophy of oil-secreting glands as the age advances. Oil production is at its greatest in early adulthood and reduces in old age. The fatty acid composition in the skin also changes. The cholesterol level inside the skin also decreases with ageing process which causes more dryness and flaking of the skin. The condition becomes worse during the winter season due to low humidity in the environment causes further deterioration of the skin barrier function. Most of the old age patients complain of itching which is also known as Senile Pruritus in medical terms.
2. Senile Pruritus:
Ageing skin often feels ‘dry’ to the touch. Dryness is often worse in the winters. It is due to the reduction of oil-producing glands in the skin and the quality of oil produced is poor. The changes are often most pronounced on the legs and itching starts in the leg region at the onset. In some patients, the surface texture of the skin assumes a cracked appearance resembling crazy paving. This is known as Asteatotic Eczema or Eczema Craquele. Frequent washing is certainly a causative factor in susceptible individuals and central heating may also play a part by reducing atmospheric humidity.
Effect of Sunlight :
- Loss of elasticity (elastosis): Early wrinkles and yellowish discolouration of the skin.
- Pigment changes: Liver spots and lentigines and moles on the sun-exposed parts of the body.
Thickening of the skin:
Another feature of chronic sun exposure is the thickening of the skin. Sun exposure has also been directly linked to skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.