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J Am Acad Dermatol. 1986 Oct;15(4 Pt 1):571-85.

Structural and functional changes of normal aging skin.


Solar-induced cutaneous changes are more prevalent and profound in older persons and, thus, are often inappropriately attributed to the aging process, per se. Structural and functional alterations caused by intrinsic aging and independent of environmental insults are now recognized in the skin of elderly individuals. Structurally the aged epidermis likely becomes thinner, the corneocytes become less adherent to one another, and there is flattening of the dermoepidermal interface. The number of melanocytes and Langerhans cells is decreased. The dermis becomes atrophic and it is relatively acellular and avascular. Dermal collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans are altered. The subcutaneous tissue is diminished in some areas, especially the face, shins, hands, and feet, while in others, particularly the abdomen in men and the thighs in women, it is increased. The number of eccrine glands is reduced and both the eccrine and apocrine glands undergo attenuation. Sebaceous glands tend to increase in size but paradoxically their secretory output is lessened. The nail plate is generally thinned, the surface ridged and lusterless, and the lunula decreased in size. There is a progressive reduction in the density of hair follicles per unit area on the face and scalp, independent of male-pattern alopecia. The hair shaft diameter is generally reduced but in some areas, especially the ears, nose, and eyebrows of men and the upper lip and chin in women, it is increased as vellus hairs convert to cosmetically compromising terminal hairs. Functional alterations noted in the skin of elderly persons include a decreased growth rate of the epidermis, hair, and nails, delayed wound healing, reduced dermal clearance of fluids and foreign materials, and compromised vascular responsiveness. Eccrine and apocrine secretions are diminished. The cutaneous immune and inflammatory responses are impaired, particularly cell-mediated immunity. Clinical correlates of these intrinsic aging changes of the skin include alopecia, pallor, xerosis, an increased number of benign and malignant epidermal neoplasms, increased susceptibility to blister formation, predisposition to injury of the dermis and underlying tissues, delayed onset and resolution of blisters and wheals, persistent contact dermatitis, impaired tanning response to ultraviolet light, increased risk for wound infections, prolongation of therapy necessary for onychomycosis, and thermoregulatory disturbances.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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