Does Aging Skin Cause Itching

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There are a number of changes affecting your skin as the years pass. Although these changes are perfectly normal, it’s not always easy to deal with. For example, getting older would be a real itch for some people. So, does aging skin have a role to cause itching?

Your skin changes with age

The human body will change naturally over time. The main components of the body (e.g. bones, lean tissues (including organs and muscles), fats, and skin) change as you get older. This occurs due to changes of individual cells or/and whole organs of your body [1].

The old wives’ tale say life is about change. And this is going clearly as you age, in which your skin is the proof. In time, it’s not uncommon to see a number of changes of your skin – some of them are as follows:

  1. The skin is likely to become slack, rougher, and thinner (more transparent). These usually occur due to thinning of epidermis and decline in elastin (your elastic tissue).
  2. It also tends to be more susceptible to bruising and become more fragile because of thinner blood vessel walls and thinner epidermis.
  3. Changes on the face. For examples loose skin around the cheeks, jawline, or eyes.
  4. Age spots, typically characterized by dark patches and commonly on the areas exposed a lot to the sunlight such as hands, arms, shoulders, and face. They are more common after 50.
  5. Benign skin lesions, like cherry angiomas and seborrheic keratosis.

The changes are not only about the appearance above the skin, these also affect below the skin. For examples;

  1. You’re likely to have loss of cartilage in the nose, making drooping nose more likely.
  2. Skin puckering around the mouth. This is likely to occur if you have bone loss around the chin and mouth.
  3. The look of ‘skeletal’ appearance and sunken eyes. With age, you will have a decline in fat volume below the skin (including in the nose, eye, chin, temples, and cheeks). 

It seems aging skin is an inevitable thing for everyone, and how fast you get it is dependent on several factors. You can’t stop the process, but your lifestyle choices may provoke or slow it down.

Let’s say poor diet, harsh weather, air pollution, UV rays, bad stress management, or bad habits (e.g. smoking and lack of sleep) – all these things would make premature aging skin more likely.

Does aging skin cause itching?

Pruritus, a medical term to call an itch, is a general irritating and uncomfortable sensation on the skin that provokes the urge to scratch. This nuisance sensation may arise from the irritation of nerve cell connected to the skin or from the skin cell itself [2].

It is actually an important part of the body’s protective mechanism since it gives an alert to bad external agents. But many times it is going to become a lot counterproductive, especially for the health of the skin itself.

At first, the itchy skin usually looks normal (depending on the underlying cause). But when you scratch it, it’s likely to become red, rough, or even bumpy. And if left untreated, repeated scratching will make the problem get worse, resulting in increased thick areas of the affected skin (this might become infected or bleed in severe cases).

Your skin is unique. Unlike other organs of the body, you can feel pain and itchy sensation on it. Other organs also can hurt, but they don’t feel itch.

Scratching may relieve your nuisance for a while. It feels good, distracting the mind from that nuisance. But although you may feel a bit better, this only lasts in a very brief period of time and then the problem is likely to get worse particularly true if you don’t stop scratching!

What to remember – scratching your skin may cause mild pain in the skin. The body can release more serotonin (a pain-fighting agent) to respond this. As a result, you may feel itchier than before. Also, some people say that scratching may provoke itchy spots elsewhere in the body.

Many factors (both internal and external factors) can contribute to cause itching [3].

  1. Something inside the body such as skin conditions (like eczema), nerve disorders, internal diseases (kidney and thyroid disorders), psychiatric problems (stress or anxiety), and even pregnancy.  
  2. External factors. For examples; negative reaction to certain medications, chemicals, parasites, wool, or harsh soaps.

How about aging skin? In addition to changes of the skin as mentioned earlier, aging skin in time could be a real itch. Many elderly people find that their skin become supersensitive and easy to get itchy.

Increased itchy sensation with age is probably not fully understood yet. It may have to do with several factors such as menopause, histamine, chronic inflammation, psychiatric causes, dermatological causes (especially dry skin), medication-induced pruritus, certain health conditions,  or something else (sometimes the exact cause is unidentifiable) [4].

One common cause of these is menopause. Itchiness is a common thing around menopause in which hormonal changes are to blame. Estrogen, a hormone that plays a key role to your skin health, decreases with menopause. This increases the risk of several skin complaints, including itchiness [5]. 

Another common culprit is probably the release of excess histamine, a chemical of your own body immune system. We can say it acts like a bodyguard at a club. But sometimes histamine works counterproductively, leading to several problems such as itchiness.

When you have inflammation in the skin, the body naturally releases histamine – and this turn on an itch response [6]. Skin inflammation has many causes, the common ones include; allergic reaction, heat, sunlight (photosensitivity), infection, or immune system abnormality.

Itchiness with aging skin is more challenging since it’s also likely associated with chronic itch, a condition in which the problem has nothing to do with a ‘foreign substance’ trigger. Instead, chronic itch can flare up even with light pressure to the skin.

One study with mice shows that chronic itch in elderly people might have a connection to Merkel cells, oval-shaped mechanoreceptors found in the basal layer of your epidermis [7]. Merkel cells are likely to decline in time, and this might make touch-related itchiness more likely.

Itching as you age could be very bothersome. But there are also plenty of ways to help ease the problem, these include:


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