Medically reviewed by: Bebe Pajo, MD
Firm but supple skin is one of the many gifts of youth that we don’t appreciate at the time but yearn for later. With age, skin becomes drier, thinner, looser and less elastic. In some people, these changes eventually give the skin the crinkly look of crepe paper.
Crepey skin is more than an aesthetic issue. Thin, fragile skin can more easily bruise, break open and bleed. While crepey skin can’t be entirely reversed, there are steps you can take to make your skin firmer and smoother.
What causes crepey skin?
One cause of crepey skin is something you can’t control: age.
“Aging skin naturally becomes thinner and saggier because the body produces less collagen and elastin. These proteins allow the skin to stretch, and to bounce back afterward,” said Bebe Pajo, MD, a dermatologist at Water’s Edge Dermatology who specializes in cosmetic dermatology.
Age isn’t the only cause of crepey skin, however. Years of sun worshipping or tanning bed use can also lead to crepey skin or make it worse. That’s because ultraviolet rays speed the breakdown of collagen and elastin. Your genes also factor into your risk of thin, fragile skin. If your mother and grandmother had it, you’re more likely to have it, too.
Smoking, sleep deprivation and consuming too much alcohol can contribute to crepey skin, as can rapid weight loss or gain.
How to get rid of crepey skin
“Crepey skin is a factor of age, genetics and sun damage, and once you have it, you can’t go back to the skin you had in your 20s or 30s,” said Dr. Pajo. “But you can absolutely improve the skin’s appearance.”
Here are some of the best crepey skin treatment options.
Crepey skin creams
To turn back the clock on crepey skin, you’ll need to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Moisturizing creams lock in moisture more effectively than lotions do and are often the better choice. But a plain old moisturizing cream won’t take you far enough.
“Moisturizing creams that contain retinoids, which stimulate the production of collagen and speed the generation of new skin cells, are ideal for crepey skin,” said Dr. Pajo. Choose a cream that also contains hyaluronic acid, which pulls moisture into the skin and helps thicken and plump it. “Over time and with regular use, these ingredients can make skin look less crepey.”
As far as the best cream for crepey skin goes, Dr. Pajo likes these:
- wederm Dream Skin Rx
- ZO Growth Factor Serum
- ZO Body Emulsion
- ZO Wrinkle + Texture Repair
- DefenAge 8-in-1 Bioserum
Another beneficial ingredient to look for in skin care products, including cleansers, is alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). This group of acids, which includes glycolic acid and lactic acid, exfoliate the skin. In studies, people who used products containing AHA had noticeably thicker, smoother and firmer skin. Using a product that contains AHA on a regular basis might also offer some protection against future skin damage.
Be sure to slather on sunscreen if you use a product that contains retinoids or AHA, since both ingredients make the skin more sensitive to the sun. It’s best to apply products that contain retinoids at night.
Your skin care provider has several ways to help make skin thicker, plumper and smoother.
Fractional laser skin resurfacing
Fractional laser skin resurfacing improves skin elasticity and firmness by stimulating collagen production. It also smooths wrinkles and fine lines. This treatment is not recommended for people with dark or tanned skin.
For crepey skin on the face, dermal fillers, including Sculptra Aesthetic and Radiesse filler, also stimulate collagen production and smooth wrinkles.
Profound RF, a combination of deep microneedling and radiofrequency energy treatment, promotes faster collagen formation in one treatment. It tightens sagging skin, improves the look of wrinkles and scars and may be used on many body parts, including the arms and legs.
A thread lift also encourages collagen production and lifts saggy skin. It involves placing sutures (“threads”) under the skin with a small needle to “anchor” loose skin in place. The body produces collagen as part of the healing process. “In older patients, I recommend using a combination of collagen-stimulating fillers prior to a thread lift,” said Dr. Pajo.
A healthy diet
The foods you eat matter to your skin. Aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get enough of the antioxidants your skin loves.
Adequate protein is also important, since protein helps the skin repair and renew itself. Skinless chicken breast, eggs, lean meat, tofu, seitan and lentils are all good sources of protein. Older adults may need more protein than younger ones. For a general idea of how much protein you need each day, use this calculator. Your needs may be different if you have certain health conditions.
How to prevent crepey skin
The best way to prevent crepey skin is to keep your skin hydrated and protect it from environmental assaults.
Wear sunscreen without fail
“Wearing sunscreen whenever you go outside is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect against premature skin aging,” said Dr. Pajo. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Cover up with a long-sleeved shirt and wide-brimmed hat. Wearing pants instead of shorts can help prevent crepey skin on the legs.
Use a moisturizer daily
Moisturizer is essential. “The outermost layer of skin is a protective barrier designed to hold in moisture, but it doesn’t always work as efficiently as it should,” said Dr. Pajo. “Daily use of a good moisturizing cream with bonus ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides and niacinamide will help repair that barrier and lock in moisture.” CeraVe Moisturizing Cream and Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream are two drugstore brands Dr. Pajo recommends.
Don’t undo the good work of your moisturizer by using a soap that strips your skin of its natural oils. Use a gentle soap or a non-soap cleanser. You might like a moisturizing body wash.
Add a daily serum
To help prevent and treat skin damage, a vitamin C serum may be a useful addition to your skin care regimen. It neutralizes free radicals, unstable molecules that sun exposure causes the body to generate. It also helps the body make collagen and increases skin cell turnover.
Another good choice for skin restoration and defense, according to Dr. Pajo, is ZO Daily Power Defense. She notes, “This barrier serum helps protect the skin against oxidative damage from free radicals, reduces signs of premature aging, speeds the restoration of the skin barrier and offers extended skin hydration to support continuously healthy skin.”
Want to improve the appearance of your crepey skin? Schedule an appointment today.
Written by: Stephanie Watson, a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. She has written for WebMD, Healthline, HealthCentral, Harvard Health Publications, SELF and many other consumer health publications.