How often do you think about keeping your skin healthy? If you're like most people, probably not as often as you should. Yet skin is the largest organ of the body, protecting us from injury, infection, heat and cold. Aging, however, affects the skin in ways you can't always see in the mirror. The normal aging process—combined with a lifetime of sun exposure—leads to skin that becomes thin, lax and easier to tear, making it vulnerable to disorders and diseases and weakening its protective ability.

The natural aging process has the following effects on skin:

  • A slowing of cell turnover—when new skin cells replace old—resulting in a progressive loss of skin cells, making skin more fragile and susceptible to injury and infection
  • Reduced blood flow to the skin, which leads to increased bruising and slower healing
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat, which makes up the bottom layer of skin that serves as insulation, making it harder to conserve heat and absorb shocks
  • A decrease in the number of sweat glands, which compromises the body's cooling system

Repeated exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun accelerates certain changes to the skin and causes additional damage. The more damage, the more vulnerable skin becomes to disorders, sometimes serious enough affect your quality of life. Some dermatological changes may be signs of more serious underlying conditions and shouldn't be overlooked. You can promote your own skin health by seeing your doctor promptly for expert advice if you develop skin problems.

Doctor's Viewpoint

Michele F. Bellantoni, MD, Associate Professor, Medicine, Medical Director, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

Many people think that skin conditions are a consequence of aging that they must live with. They fail to either seek treatment to relieve discomfort or have a skin problem checked out. But healthy skin promotes well-being, and problems shouldn't be ignored.

Your skin functions as a barrier from the environment, providing protection from bacteria, chemicals and excessive water loss. Older skin requires basic maintenance with regular use of emollient, or moisturizer, to prevent dryness and itching to help ensure that it continues to serve as an effective barrier.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 29 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 27 Feb 2015