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What can you do about paper-thin skin? A lot!

In my book, I told you that there is no reason why older people should live with paper-thin skin. And there isn’t if you live in the USA or Europe or a relatively rich country and have a moderate income.

First: why does the skin thin as we age?

The paper-thin skin of the very old can’t do its job correctly – can’t keep infectious agents out, keep water in, etc., and it feels uncomfortable. There’s no reason why aging should thin our skin to  that extent; we should keep our skin not just looking young, but “working young.” Often, a consumer may choose to undergo plastic surgery (where a doctor will stretch the skin, cut pieces of it away, and maybe inject “fillers”)  and immobilize the underlying muscles without first thinking that the procedure as a whole might fail unless the skin is healthy.

The excellent protection that our skin provides us through life doesn’t come for free. Just look at it: a lifetime of defending us against the environment can lead to scars, thinning, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. With all of the damage that will occur naturally, it’s surprising (to me) that anyone would want to make it worse by smoking, tanning, or getting laser treatments. Plus there are harmful “skincare” products out there, I call them “skincare from hell.” Avoid those at all costs if you care about the long-term health of your skin.

Many processes go wrong in aging skin. I will tell you about a couple of them, and both have to do with stem cells. For other relevant issues, please search my blog for “mitochondria”. Mitochondria are the power-houses of the body, they supply the energy we need to build new cells and for housekeeping. At Skin Actives we have several products that will help you take care of your skin mitochondria, use them!

Please read also this post.

Stem cells

Your skin renews itself all the time, and this is a fundamental part of how the skin works. For renewal, you need stem cells, YOUR stem cells in YOUR skin.

The deepest layer of the epidermis is the basal or germinative layer, a single row of cuboidal cells with large nuclei. Some of these basal cells have stem cell capacity and will divide and produce new cells. It is in your best interest to prevent mutations in your skin stem cells. Why? Healing and skin renewal depend on stem cells’ availability and genetic health in the epidermis’ basal layer. The long-lived stem cells reside in the basal layer. Even in people with dark skin, stem cells accumulate DNA damage caused by UV radiation and other environmental and endogenous factors.

Protect your skin from UV radiation by avoiding the sun, wearing a hat, and sunscreen. Protect your skin from ROS* by using antioxidants that are effective in protecting from oxidative stress. And don’t allow your skin to ever see “skincare” ingredients known to cause oxidative stress like peroxides, with benzoyl peroxide included and hydroquinone. Many of the “fast and furious” skin treatments the industry offers will age your skin and can cause worse trouble in the long term.

Any active ingredient that prevents cell damage and DNA mutation will be good for your stem cells. UV radiation and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS*) reach deep into the skin and affect the stem cells present in the basal skin layer. Actives that promote “anchorage” of stem cells to the dermal-epidermal junction and those that provide nutrition and building blocks that the skin can’t make itself, like essential fatty acids, are good for the skin.

Which ingredients are useless? Label value ingredients like plant stem cell extracts. Plant stem cell extract (a.k.a. fruit juice) are useless even for plants.

What about harmful ingredients? Those that promote oxidative stress and inflammation, including benzoyl peroxide, and allergenic fragrances.

Stem cells and their daughters

A good research paper to come out in recent years is Liu et al. (2019), which was named “Stem cell competition orchestrates skin homeostasis and ageing”. In this paper, the authors show that the presence of a “good” collagen 17 protein is very important for the success of stem cells when it comes to succeeding in the competition for space and survival. A cell that is expressing collagen 17 will multiply and prosper. One that does not express this protein will divide in the wrong way and disappear from our skin rapidly, without leaving “daughter cells” to maintain the skin barrier.

How does collagen 17 work its magic?  The collagen protein COL17A1 can “sense” DNA damage. In young skin, DNA damage in a small number of epidermal stem cells promotes COL17A1 degradation, decreasing hemidesmosomes’ formation. These multiprotein structures anchor basal-layer epidermal cells to the basement membrane, connecting the epidermis to the dermis. Stem cells with high COL17A1 levels and high numbers of hemidesmosomes (‘fit’ cells) keep the skin youthful by spreading along the basement membrane through parallel cell divisions and displacing the badly attached, ‘less fit’ cells that have low COL17A1 levels. “Unfit” cells undergo perpendicular cell divisions and end up in the more superficial layers of the skin, shedding soon after. Aging, radiation, and certain genetic conditions cause a more general COL17A1 loss, causing skin thinning. If we could restore COL17A1 expression in stem cells, these cells would divide and generate healthy skin.

Apocynin, a chemical present in some plants, gives an advantage in this tough competition by promoting the synthesis of collagen 17 and increasing the chances for survival of the mother cells derived from the dividing stem cells.

Any active ingredient that prevents cell damage and DNA mutation will benefit your stem cells, so wearing sunscreens and antioxidants will prevent injury. Choose actives that encourage “anchorage” of stem cells to the dermal-epidermal junction, plus those that promote nutrition and provide “building blocks” that the skin can’t make itself, like essential fatty acids.

Take-home lesson

Aging has its costs. One of them is thinning skin and it will show most on forearms and hands. At the same time, older people tend to be on medication, anticoagulants, that impairs blood coagulation (and prevents strokes!)  and makes us more prone to bruises and discoloration. Anticoagulants can be life-saving (and, most importantly) brain saving, but our arms show the collateral damage.


Don’t use corticosteroids, which will result in skin thinning.

No bubble baths, sorry. They remove valuable lipids in your skin, and as we age we can’t afford to lose them.

Avoid the sun (cover your arms, wear a hat) and environmental stressors. If you can’t, try Skin Actives products that help protect you from oxidative stress, including botanical antioxidants and our ROS BioNet.

Products that will help you

Multivitamins are great for your body but they are unlikely to reach your aging skin. Please think of your skin and use topical products from Skin Actives that provide you with nutrition, including everything your stem cells need to keep dividing and producing new skin cells. Think amino acids, vitamins, epidermal growth factor and keratinocyte growth factor, mitochondrial supplements (to keep your energy-producing machine working), fatty acids, etc.

If you are on a diet, don’t force your skin and scalp to go on a diet too. Feed your skin, otherwise, it will thin, heal slowly, and your scalp will lose hair. There are two products that you will need: Every Lipid Serum and collagen serum, and use them as often as you can.

If you have cancer and are taking medicines to control it, try to make time and help your skin and scalp by nourishing them. In this case, use the special Every lipid serum with CBD, because it will also help with itching and pain that usually comes post-surgery. For the scalp, the double action hair serum will help retain and regrow hair (and eyebrows).

You can help strengthen your capillaries using products like Skin Actives capillary health cream.  Make sure you use plenty of every lipid serum, it will also help prevent bruising when you bump yourself.

Be patient, as we age everything takes longer to heal. Be kind to yourself and your skin and you will also feel better. Self-care is not a matter of bubble baths and fragrances but nourishing the skin with what is missing, and it’s not missing perfumes!





Liu et al (2019)  Stem cell competition orchestrates skin homeostasis and ageing, Nature, 568:1-7

DISCLAIMER: These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.