Crepey Skin: Top Causes and Solutions - The Dermatology Review

Crepey Skin: Top Causes and Solutions

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

02.26.21DISCLAIMER

As the name implies, crepey skin looks like tightly-packed, condensed wrinkles resembling crinkled crepe paper — it also tends to be on the thin and fragile side. While wrinkles are often associated with repetitive motions such as squinting, crepey skin is primarily caused by the thinning of the epidermis and dermis due to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, which in turn makes it more fragile and susceptible to damage. 

Crepey skin can appear anywhere on the face or body, including the chest, legs, inside the arm, back of the hands, and eyelids. Even though crepey skin is comparable to wrinkles, it’s not always a condition associated with the aging process. Let’s take a closer look at the causes, treatment options, and preventative measures that can help minimize this crinkly skin condition’s appearance.

Crepey skin on face and neck

What Causes Crepey Skin

One of the leading causes of crepey skin is ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure or a tanning bed. Over time, UV rays destroy the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin that give it elasticity, cushioning, and tone. While it’s true that these fibers can heal, long-term UV exposure takes an irreparable toll on the integrity of the skin. Though crepey skin doesn’t usually start to surface until a person reaches their 40s, it is possible to appear earlier based on how much time they spend in the sun, as well as the following factors: 

  • Having a fair complexion: Due to the lack of melanin in the skin, those with fair skin are more susceptible to sun damage, which thins the skin and causes crepiness because collagen and elastin fibers become damaged.
  • Moisture loss: The loss of moisture in aging skin and sudden, significant fat loss (especially in older people) contributes to crepiness as aging skin cannot bounce back as readily as younger skin.
  • Genetics: While aging skin is a combination of intrinsic (chronological) and extrinsic (sun exposure and lifestyle) factors, research has found that genes also play a role. Some aging-associated changes are predetermined, whereas others are random and, therefore, cannot be forecasted. 
  • Smoking: Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals that damage collagen and elastin. The nicotine in cigarettes causes the blood vessels to constrict in the skin’s outer layers, which impairs blood flow. Decreased blood flow means your skin isn’t getting as much oxygen or vital nutrients like vitamin A. Here’s some additional food for thought: The unhealthy, worn skin of a 40-year-old heavy smoker resembles that of a non-smoking 70-year-old.
  • Pollution: There’s a reason you’ve seen an increase in the rise of products formulated to ward off pollutants. Outdoor pollution has grown by 8% since 2016, and the skincare market has taken notice. The global anti-pollution skincare products market size was estimated at 9.07 billion in 2018 and is likely to expand further at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 4.2% from 2019 to 2025. Pollutants like radiation, metal ions, cigarette smoke, smoke, and even household cleaning supplies generate free radicals that ransack electrons from healthy cells, which unfortunately expedites the aging process. 
  • Lack of sleep: Studies suggest that lack of sleep is associated with more fine lines, wrinkles, and droopy corners of the mouth, so it’s no surprise that not getting enough shuteye can lead to crepey skin, too. 
  • A deficient diet: As the saying goes, beauty comes from the inside out. Research has found that a diet lacking sufficient vitamins, nutrients, pre- and probiotics, essential fatty acids, and enough calories can accelerate the aging process. 
  • Certain medications, such as prednisone: Chronic steroid use makes the skin more susceptible to crepey skin. 
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight — especially quickly: Rapid weight changes can cause the skin to sag, making crepey skin more apparent.

How to Get Rid of Crepey Skin

Various dermatological, over-the-counter, and natural home remedies can improve the appearance of crepey skin. Which ones you choose (a combination is typically more effective) depends upon the severity of your crepiness, as well as where areas of concern are located on your face or body. While prevention is critical (we’ll get to that later), speak to a dermatologist or doctor if you need help devising the best treatment plan for your skin. 

Remember, our skincare routine needs to change as we get older regularly. Once you hit your 40s, oil and collagen production begins to slow down, so whatever you did when you were younger may no longer be effective. 

Dermatological Treatments for Crepey Skin

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all of the different non-invasive dermatological treatments you can receive for crepey skin. However, each one represents several of the popular types of tightening procedures on the market. Speak to a plastic surgeon to help you choose the best one for you. 

Topical Retinoid
While there are over-the-counter retinoids that we’ll talk about next, your skincare professional may suggest a more potent, prescription-based formula depending on the condition of your skin. Retinoids — synthetic forms of vitamin A — stimulate collagen synthesis, which means they can penetrate beneath the epidermis, the top layer of the skin. Studies suggest retinol results in significant wrinkle improvement after 12 weeks of use. Just be aware that since retinoids encourage exfoliation, they can be a bit harsh and drying, so it’s best to slowly introduce them into your routine (and with a hydrating moisturizer), lest you run the risk of making crepey skin worse. 

Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are solutions that are applied to the skin by a dermatologist or esthetician in order to reduce the appearance of crepey skin via chemical exfoliation. There are various peel grades depending on whether you’re looking for a light, medium, or deep exfoliation. Some peels just target the epidermis (outer layer of skin), while those targeting wrinkles like marionette lines go deep into the dermis, the middle layer of skin. 

The peeling process typically begins 48-72 hours after your treatment and can last anywhere from 2-5 days. It’s very important not to pick at your skin as you can cause damage such as scarring. Applying a gentle moisturizer regularly is the best thing you can do to keep flakes at bay while protecting delicate skin. As with all treatments, you have to keep up with your peels if you want to maintain the results, so plan on getting a peel on a monthly basis. 

Laser Treatments

  • Fraxel: Fraxel is a non-invasive, imperceptible laser that penetrates your skin to stimulate collagen and elastin synthesis, so it’s a treatment that targets wrinkles from the inside out. It can even treat delicate areas such as crepey skin around the eye area and on the neck. Most patients need around 2-4 treatments to see results, but it all comes down to your skin’s current condition, and the area’s being treated. While the cost depends on demographics, insurance, etc., the average ticket price is $1,500 per treatment, so Fraxel doesn’t come cheap — especially considering you have to repeat the process every 2-4 months. 
  • Clear and Brilliant: This laser treatment is known as the “baby Fraxel” because the technology is the same, but it’s not as aggressive. It’s another laser resurfacing treatment that uses pulsating beams of light to remove dead skin cells, thus promoting a smoother, more even, and clearer complexion. As it’s not as intense as Fraxel, the downtime isn’t as damning to the skin, but you will want to wear protective sunscreen and consider wearing a hat if you’re going out in the sun. You’ll start to see results around a week later, but you’ll need more than one treatment (approximately $500 each.) The number depends upon the severity of your crepey skin. 

Ultrasound Treatments

  • Ultherapy: Ultherapy works similarly to a fractional laser treatment in that it uses an ultrasound device to heat the dermis to stimulate collagen growth and tighten the skin. It’s typically used to treat crepiness on the face and neck, but note it’s not as effective on the upper arms. While it can be a bit painful, there’s no downtime, and you only need one session per year, but it will set you back approximately $2,500-$5,000 depending on how large of an area you’re treating. 
  • Venus Legacy/Venus Freeze: Ultherapy is far more intense than the ultrasound energy used in Venus Freeze/Venus Legacy. With that in mind, they both require more treatment sessions — once a week for eight weeks instead of once per year. However, the Venus options are more desirable for those who cannot tolerate intense heat. Treatments are approximately $500 per session. 

Radio Frequency (Non-Surgical Skin Tightening) Treatments

  • ThermiTight: ThermiTight harnesses the power of radio frequency and delivered a small, temperature-controlled probe, ThermiTight is a non-invasive tightening treatment that targets the neck, breasts, arms, abdomen, knees, and thighs. You typically only need one session, but results aren’t apparent until 3-4 weeks later, with continued improvement over the next 12 months. Results last around 3-5 years, longer in some cases. The price tag is approximately $3,00-$4,000 per treatment. 
  • Thermage: While ThermiTight is minimally invasive and works by delivering radio frequency energy through the probe inserted under the skin, Thermage uses a probe that only touches the surface of the skin, so there’s virtually no downtime. One treatment every 6-12 months can show noticeable improvements, however, if crepey skin is more severe additional treatments at the three and six month mark may be needed. The cost per treatment ranges between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on the number of areas being treated.

Skincare Products for Crepey Skin

Be it finances or personal preference, dermatological procedures aren’t always in the cards, so that’s where over-the-counter products come into the picture. Look for ingredients like retinol (non-prescription in this case) to stimulate collagen production and cell turnover. Other ingredients that dissolve dead skin cells and renew the skin include members of the acid family: alpha-hydroxy, glycolic, lactic, citric, tartaric, and malic acids. In addition, hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and peptides temporarily smooth crepey skin and give it a more plumped-up appearance. 

  • EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46: As we’ve mentioned, sun exposure is the number one cause of crepey skin —  and aging skin, for that matter — so it should be included in your skincare routine daily. The sunscreens from EltaMD are favored by dermatologists and the Skin Cancer foundation alike. This particular version is formulated with niacinamide (vitamin B3), hyaluronic acid, and lactic acid, promoting healthy-looking skin while protecting it from harmful UVA/UVB rays. It’s lightweight and suitable for even the most sensitive skin types. It’s your choice if you want to wear it alone or with makeup, but it should always be applied after your moisturizer.
  • Formulyst Anti-Aging Night Cream: When sleeping, your body goes into repair mode, so it’s an excellent opportunity to nourish crepey skin with a skin cream formulated with retinol, the gold standard for anti-aging. This vitamin A derivative helps boost cell turnover and smooth out the appearance of crepey skin while soothing safflower seed and jojoba oil seal in moisture, leaving skin refreshed and renewed.
  • Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Night Cream With Hyaluronic Acid: Crepey skin is thin and delicate, yet you can rest assured knowing this gentle and cost-effective formula has been dermatologist tested and clinically proven to be safe for sensitive skin. It’s chock-full of nourishing, non-comedogenic ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, sweet almond oil, glyceryl stearate, along with vitamin E to help ward off UV damage.
  • SkinCeuticals AGE Interrupter
    When crepiness is accompanied by itchiness and irritation, that’s a surefire sign that the skin’s barrier is compromised. AGE Interrupter is formulated with ceramides, lipids, and blueberry extract to improve crepey skin and other visible signs of aging triggered by advanced glycation end products (AGEs), proteins, or lipids that become glycated as a result of exposure to sugars.
  • CeraVe Moisturizing Cream: Don’t be fooled by the plain packaging and low price point. Thousands of nearly five-star reviews will tell you that this moisturizer packs a punch. Dermatologists developed this profoundly hydrating cream for dehydrated skin on the face (including crepey skin under the eyes), but one can use it on the body as well. Non-greasy, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream boasts a patented MVE Delivery Technology to release a steady stream of hyaluronic acid and three essential ceramides throughout the day and night. You’ll immediately notice an improvement in your crepey skin, but even more so with continued use.

Best Lotion for Crepey Skin on the Body

As mentioned, crepey skin doesn’t just appear on the face. For crepey skin on the legs and other large parts of the body, it’s best to use a crepey skin lotion right after you get out of the shower — reapply at night so active ingredients like ceramides, cocoa butter, and retinol can work their magic while you’re sleeping. Again, this is when the skin repairs itself. Bonus: The best over-the-counter lotion for crepey skin need not break the bank. 

  • Crepe Erase Intensive Body Repair Treatment: Some would argue that the best lotion for crepey skin on arms and legs is this cult body treatment explicitly formulated for targeting crepiness. What makes Crepe Erase’s formula stand out is TruFirm™, a proprietary combination of skin-restoring plant extracts and seven super hydrators that work to promote collagen and elastin synthesis while immediately tightening the appearance of dry, crepey skin. Since the formula is concentrated, a little goes a long way.
  • Eucerin Roughness Relief Body Lotion : Another simple, cost-effective crepey skin treatment favored by dermatologists has the added benefit of being formulated with urea, which gently chemically exfoliates the skin. The addition of shea butter, ceramides, and glycerin delivers 48 hours of deep hydration, bringing life back to crepey skin.
  • Alpha Skin Care Renewal Body Lotion: This lotion for crepey skin makes the chest, neck, hands, arms, and legs glow and appear younger-looking, thanks to 12% glycolic AHA that works to gently exfoliate and hydrate. It also evens out the skin tone and helps support collagen production, which reduces the signs of crepiness all over the body. Be sure to pair this lotion with an SPF as the glycolic AHA makes the skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays, which could lead to burning and further skin damage.
  • Medix 5.5 Retinol Cream with Ferulic Acid Anti-Sagging Treatment: Introducing another lotion that needs to be paired with sunscreen, Medix 5.5 Retinol Cream is the brand’s best-seller, likely because it targets wrinkled, sun-damaged, and crepey skin while balancing its pH. As it’s supporting a healthy skin barrier, it retains moisture while guarding the skin from pollutants.  Retinol and ferulic acid are the star ingredients, but aloe vera, chamomile, and black tea also support overall skin health.
  • StriVectin-TL Tightening Neck Cream PLUS: We’re not going to lie. This crepey skin cream isn’t exactly a bargain buster like the others, but if your neck is one of your most outstanding areas of concern, it’s worth the extra few bucks — and it still doesn’t come near the price tag of a dermatological treatment. This popular cream is formulated with StriVectin’s patented NIA-114 technology, meaning it’s designed to deliver the vitamin Niacin deep into the skin. It also contains a breakthrough Gravitite-CF Lifting Complex. You’ll notice an improvement in skin elasticity and the appearance of horizontal neck lines and sagging.

Natural Remedies for Crepey Skin

Realistically speaking, DIY home remedies aren’t going to have the same effect as topical, over-the-counter, or dermatological treatments. Even so, there’s no harm in incorporating a few natural antidotes into your routine. 

  • Honey
    Honey, a golden nectar that contains anti-aging antioxidants and biochemicals that can deeply hydrate crepey skin. Give yourself a self-care treatment by whipping up half a teaspoon each of honey, turmeric, and sour cream. Apply to areas of concern, rinse off when dry, and follow up with an appropriate topical face or body cream.
  • Powdered Milk
    There’s a reason Cleopatra soaked in a bath filled with milk. The creamy white substance contains lactic acid, which means it gently sloughs off dead skin cells. Up the ante by mixing a tablespoon of powdered milk with a half teaspoon of rose water for added hydration — adjust depending on how large of an area you’re treating. Apply to the skin and leave on for 20 minutes before rinsing off with tepid water and applying an applicable cream or lotion.
  • Apple Seed Essential Oil
    This EO may not be on your radar, but it should be if you’re trying to treat crepey skin. It increases cell turnover, keeps damaging pollutants at bay, and combats dryness, all of which create a healthy glow while supporting crepiness on the face and body alike. Use 1-2 drops in the area you want to treat; dilute in a carrier oil if you have sensitive skin.
  • Coconut Oil
    Coconut oil is an all-natural remedy that has received a lot of buzz for the past few years as it can provide moisture on contact. While it’s been said to boost collagen production, there is little research at this time to support its efficiency. Also, keep in mind that it’s a comedogenic ingredient, so skip if you’re prone to breakouts.
  • Sage
    This Scarborough Fair herb contains ursolic acid, a phyto-active compound known to improve skin elasticity and improve the appearance of crepey skin. Mix a few drops of sage essential oil with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, grapeseed, jojoba, argan, etc., and apply regularly.

How to Prevent Crepey Skin

Do you want to know how to prevent crepey skin? Then let’s take a look back at one of the top reasons we get it in the first place: sun exposure. According to the American Association of Dermatology, protecting yourself from UV radiation exposure is the number one preventable cause of early skin damage. Making sunscreen a regular part of your routine can significantly impact the development of crepey skin. Remember, you still need to protect your skin on cloudy days too. Other preventative measures include: 

  • Paying Attention to Your Skin: Adapt your skincare routine to your current age due to the loss of collagen and natural oils. Consider the treatments mentioned above to keep crepey skin in check. 
  • Adopting a Healthy Weight Loss Plan: Rapid weight changes can cause the skin to sag, making crepey more prominent. If you need to lose weight for health reasons, work with a doctor so that the process is gradual and attainable for the long-term.
  • Being Mindful of Your Diet: Studies have found that antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocopherols, and flavonoids, as well as vitamins (A, C, D, and E), essential omega-3-fatty acids, some proteins, and lactobacilli, have been referred to as agents capable of promoting skin health and beauty. 
  • Drinking When You’re Thirsty: The the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests men should drink approximately 3.7 liters of water a day and women 2.7 liters to keep their skin hydrated. However,  several studies have indicated that the amount of water we get from beverages and food (including the H20 produced by the cellular metabolism) may not be sufficient to meet your body’s daily water requirements. Even so, t’s important to regulate your thirst and choose water over dehydrating beverages made with caffeine or alcohol, which has a bevy of other adverse effects on the skin. 
  • Try to Quit Smoking: Quitting smoking is easier said than done, but if you need a little motivation, it’s been proven that smokers get more wrinkles than non-smokers. 

In Conclusion

Crepey skin can appear anywhere on the face or body, including the chest, legs, inside the arm, back of the hands, and eyelids. Even though crepey skin is comparable to wrinkles, it’s not always a condition associated with the aging process. One of the leading causes of crepey skin is ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure or a tanning bed. While crepiness usually starts to surface around your 40s, other factors such as pollution, smoking habits, and diet can speed up the process. From dermatological treatments such as lasers to face and body creams to DIY home remedies, there are multiple ways to lessen the appearance of crepey skin. However, it’s essential to have realistic expectations as this skin condition is an inevitable part of the aging process. Speak to a dermatologist or doctor about creating the best action plan for you. 

Resources:
Aging Genetics and Aging,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, April 2011.
Is it True That Smoking Causes Wrinkles?,” Mayo Clinic.
Anti-Pollution Skincare Products Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By End User (Male, Female), By Product (Cream, Moisturizer, Face Mask), By Nature (Organic, Conventional) And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2025,” Grand View Research, July 2019.
Study Reveals the Face of Sleep Deprivation,” August 2013.
Discovering the Link Between Nutrition and Skin Aging,” July 2012.
Retinoids in the Treatment of Skin Aging: An Overview of Clinical Efficacy and Safety,” December 2006.
Skin Conditions by Numbers,” American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?,” Mayo Clinic. “Dietary Water Affects Human Skin Hydration and Biomechanics,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, August 2015.
Facial Wrinkling in Men and Women, By Smoking Status,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, January 1995.

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