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Treating Aging Skin

New methods of skin rejuvenation are continually developing. Innovations range from topically applied medications including prescriptions and over-the-counter products called “cosmeceuticals” to surgical procedures (facelift, browlift, blepharoplasty). Non-surgical techniques include soft tissue augmentation (implants), botulinum toxin, fillers, and new laser technology.

An understanding of how your skin changes as you age and how the sun affects your skin can help you decide with your doctor what treatment is best for you.

Maintaining healthy skin

The best way to keep skin healthy is to avoid sun exposure beginning early in life. Here are some other tips:

  • Avoid excessive sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm when UV exposure is at its peak. If you are in the sun between 10am and 4pm, always wear protective clothing such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and sunglasses.
  • Put on sunscreen before going out in the sun to help protect your skin from UV light. Remember to reapply the lotion as needed. Always use products that are SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or higher.
  • Check your skin for signs of skin cancer. If there are changes that worry you, call the doctor right away. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that older, fair-skinned people have a yearly skin check by a doctor as part of a regular physical check-up.
  • Try to avoid dry skin. Use a humidifier at home, bathe with soap less often (use a moisturizing body wash instead), and use a moisturizing lotion. If this doesn't work, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Skin cancer

The chance of developing skin cancer increases as people age, especially for those who live in sunny areas of the country. There are three types of common skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.

The best defense against skin cancer is paying attention to the warning signs. If there is a sudden change in the look of a mole or a new spot, see a doctor. Look for differences in color, size, shape, or surface quality (scales, oozing, crusting, or bleeding). Have a doctor check any dark-colored spots.

What are the treatment options for aging skin?

Chemical peels:

Chemical peels are effective for removing fine lines and smoothing out the skin. Chemical peels remove the upper surface of the skin to expose newer, clearer skin. After the upper layers of the skin have been removed, a new layer of skin develops. Chemical peels can be used in areas, such as the eyelids and around the mouth, that are not improved by a facelift. Depending on the patient's skin type and degree of sun damage, a superficial, medium, or deep chemical peel may be the appropriate treatment.


Dermabrasion is done to remove lines and some scarring and can be used to treat moderate to severe photodamage (sun damage). Dermabrasion has similar side effects and complications as medium to deep chemical peels. However, because of the bleeding associated with dermabrasion and variations in skill and technique, it is not as accurate and easy to reproduce as current laser technology. Dermabrasion is not done on the thin skin around the eyes, which may be chemically peeled at the same time. Care must also be taken when dermabrasion is done around the mouth.

Laser resurfacing:

In the past few years, the development of high-energy carbon dioxide and erbium lasers has enhanced physicians' ability to improve photoaged skin, various types of scars, and other dermatologic conditions. The precise depth control and ability to treat large areas in a relatively short amount of time makes these carbon dioxide lasers valuable tools. Before laser resurfacing is performed, your doctor will discuss with you other treatment options, what to expect during recovery, how to take care of your skin after the procedure, and possible side effects and complications. Camouflage makeup suggestions will also be discussed.

Nonablative laser resurfacing

Newer lasers can be used to treat the skin, to improve the appearance of wrinkles and scars that do not cause open wounds. Therefore, downtime is minimal. A series of these treatments is done over several months.

Treatment options summary

Remember, the doctor’s choices of resurfacing options continue to expand. In patients with early skin aging changes, nonsurgical treatment methods such as tretinoin, vitamin C, and alpha hydroxy acids may provide satisfactory improvement. Chemical peels, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion and laserabrasion may be used alone or in combination with other surgical procedures to treat moderate to severe degrees of facial photodamage.

Deeper facial lines may be treated with botulinum toxin or soft tissue enhancement, including collagen, autologous fat, and hyaluronic acid. Patients with more sagging and excess skin will benefit from additional procedures such as facelift, browlift, and blepharoplasty (surgical reconstruction of the eyelid). Treatment must be individualized accordingly to the patient's facial characteristics and cosmetic concerns.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/1/2015…#10983