Skin elasticity refers to our skin's ability to snap back into its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, or compressed. Skin that is elastic is youthful. It has been nourished and moisturized, and it contains essential proteins and nutrients. It can properly conform to the body's shape and maintain a smooth texture. It's also stronger and more capable of withstanding stressors from the environment. Without elasticity, our skin sags. It forms wrinkles, lines, and creases. It becomes brittle, and sometimes it takes on an unhealthy tone. There are many things that can affect skin elasticity, but the most important factors are aging and sunlight.
What is Skin Elasticity
Skin elasticity is the skin's ability to bounce back after it has been stretched. It makes the skin smoother and tighter, fighting off wrinkles, creases, and lines, and it also makes the skin stronger and better able to hold up to the elements. This is due in part to a pair of proteins found beneath the upper layer of the skin called collagen and elastin. Collagen gives the skin strength. It provides a natural scaffolding structure that elevates the outer layers. Without it, the skin will sag, and start to fall. Elastin is springy. Without it, the skin won't bounce back as easily.
For most of us, our skin loses elasticity when we're middle-aged, but some may hold up longer than others. It usually depends on how much sun we've been exposed to. Harsh UV rays damage the epidermis, causing the fibers that provide the skin with its elasticity to fade or weaken. This is sometimes referred to as solar elastosis or photoaging. Smoking and healthy eating can also be determining factors. There are treatment options available to address the condition. The collagen and elastin structures can be reinforced, replenished, and preserved. But losing skin elasticity is still a natural part of aging. At some point, if we live long enough, it will always fade.
Common Types of Skin Elasticity
The loss of elasticity can be explained in very simple terms. The dermal layers are filled with what are essentially supporting beams. Through time and wear these beams begin to bend and eventually fall away. As a result, the epidermis and dermis lose their smooth, level appearance, and various abnormalities will begin to form.
In various studies, scientists would expose animal skin to a sustained burst of UV light, similar to the sun's rays. The result was a depletion of elastin and collagen, which in turn caused the skin to form wrinkles. The mechanics are quite easy to understand. The skin will sag, fold, and crease, as the support beams holding it up begin to decay and eventually disappear. After a certain point, the skin will fold and the new shape will become etched into it. Wrinkles can be treated a variety of different ways, including laser treatments, retinoids, microneedling, and laser resurfacing. It's better to find something that specifically addresses skin elasticity.
When a muscle is moved, a groove is formed. Usually, that groove disappears due to the skin's ability to bounce back. But elastosis can make that difficult. Eventually, as that muscle is used more and more often, a small fine line of skin will enter the groove. Fine lines are the precursors to wrinkles. For some, especially those with a higher amount of collagen, elastin, and fat cells, they aren't apparent at all. Others see them as the first visible signs of aging. Fine lines typically show up on the face, the hands, around the eyes, the nose, and the mouth, as well as the lips. They're defined as any wrinkle with a depth of less than 1 millimeter.
Sagging skin is one of the most common side effects of a lack of skin elasticity. It occurs when the collagen and elastin structures in the dermis are damaged or start to break down, making it impossible for the skin to bounce back. Usually, this is a result of aging. It tends to be most apparent on the upper arms, below the neck, the eyelids, and the stomach. It is also a common problem for those who have lost a large amount of weight. During weight gain, the fat cells expand and press up against the skin, stretching it while breaking down the collagen structure. When the fat cells shrink during weight loss, the skin stays in its stretched state, leaving behind a sagging pouch.
What Causes Skin Elasticity
The loss of skin elasticity is a natural part of what it means to age. It happens to everyone. So it cannot be avoided, but it can be delayed for many years. The best way to do so is to foster certain healthy behaviors and learn how to work against the clock.
Aging and loss of collagen
Skin elasticity is reinforced by a series of molecular collagen fibers, known as fibrils, in the middle layer of our skin. These fibrils are normally replaced when they are damaged. But as we age, collagen production drops and our natural ability to heal weakens, making it harder for our bodies to replenish them.
Sun damage is the most common cause of a lack of elasticity. It occurs when UV rays penetrate the upper layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, and attack the collagen and elastin structure beneath. This damages collagen fibrils, making it more difficult for them to snap back when they are stretched.
Tobacco smoke encourages the production of tropoelastin and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), both known to break down elastin and the collagen fibrils. Smoking also hinders the body's ability to produce more of these proteins. Those who smoke have a significantly greater risk of experiencing a lack of elasticity at a much younger age.
Poor diet and dehydration
Our diet and our level of hydration both have a serious impact on our skin elasticity. Without water, collagen fibrils start to crack, causing wrinkles and lines. Protein is needed to replenish collagen and elastin, and antioxidants are known to slow down the degradation of collagen. Sugar can make the skin less flexible.
Procedures That Remedy Skin Elasticity
Certain cosmetic procedures are capable of preserving and restoring skin elasticity. Microneedling, laser resurfacing, and radiofrequency skin tightening are all quite effective. Each procedure comes with its own benefits and risks. It's important to research what they entail and to take the time to find the proper provider to perform them.
MicroneedlingFind doctors who offer Microneedling
Microneedling is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a needle to create small micropunctures in the upper layers of the epidermis. The body reacts by trying to heal these small wounds and building new collagen fibrils. The procedure has the added benefit of giving skincare products and serums access to the dermis below.
Laser resurfacingFind doctors who offer Laser Skin Resurfacing
Laser skin resurfacing uses thermal energy to heat the lower skin layers, causing the collagen fibrils within them to constrict themselves. This increases elasticity. It also stimulates collagen production. Unlike radiofrequency waves, it does remove portions of the outer layer, which may result in scarring and potentially a small amount of pain.
Frequently Asked Questions
When does skin elasticity begin to decline?
Skin elasticity can begin to decline when we're in our 20s. Sometimes it begins when we're in our early to mid-30s. But for most of us, skin elasticity doesn't become a problem until our 40s or 50s, sometimes later. It all depends on environmental stressors like pollution and sunlight, as well as our diets and our ability to maintain hydration. Genetics and individual biological factors may also come into play. If we want to delay the process, we should learn how to take care of ourselves. Wear SPF-30 sunblock or higher. Try to stick to the shade when outdoors, drink a lot of water, and eat healthy.
Can weight loss or gain affect skin elasticity?
Weight gain and weight loss have a drastic effect on our skin's elasticity. Large swatches of collagen fibrils break apart when the skin stretches to accommodate growing fat cells. Many people who have gone through extensive periods of weight loss, especially those who previously had a high body weight, end up developing sagging pouches of skin, often in their abdomen, necks, or upper arms. Those pouches tend to be much larger than anything that can come as a result of aging. People in this situation may often seek out various surgical and non-surgical procedures to address this problem. Tummy tucks and loose skin removal are quite popular.
What is the role of collagen in skin elasticity?
Collagen does play a large part in determining whether or not our skin can snap back into shape. It provides what is known as tensile strength. This is a physical property that determines just how far something can be pulled or stretched without breaking. It also provides the resistance necessary for our skin to snap back into shape once it has been distorted. Think of it as the resistance you feel in a spring or a rubber band when you stretch it that forces it back into place when you let it go. But without elastin, the skin would not hold its shape at all. They're both necessary for elasticity.
What are some signs that my skin may be losing elasticity?
Many people first notice a lack of skin elasticity when their eyelid doesn't move back into shape after they blink. Another very clear sign is a sagging in the upper arm area, commonly known as arm flaps, as well as a sagging in the submental area beneath the chin. People who have lost a large amount of weight will notice patches in various parts of their body, specifically the abdomen and upper arms. We can test our elasticity by pinching the skin on our palms and counting how many seconds it takes to return to its former shape. Longer than 4 seconds represents a drop in elasticity.