25 Age Related Changes to the Integumentary System

Aging and the Integumentary System

All systems in the body accumulate subtle and some not-so-subtle changes as a person ages. Among these changes are reductions in cell division, metabolic activity, blood circulation, hormonal levels, and muscle strength (Figure 4.17). In the skin, these changes are reflected in decreased mitosis in the stratum basale, leading to a thinner epidermis. The dermis, which is responsible for the elasticity and resilience of the skin, exhibits a reduced ability to regenerate, which leads to slower wound healing. The hypodermis, with its fat stores, loses structure due to the reduction and redistribution of fat, which in turn contributes to the thinning and sagging of skin.

This figure consists of two photos. One photo shows a young woman on the phone. Her skin is smooth and unwrinkled. The other photo shows an elderly women in the same posture while on the phone. The skin of her hands and forearms is wrinkled.
Figure 4.17. Aging
Generally, skin, especially on the face and hands, starts to display the first noticeable signs of aging, as it loses its elasticity over time. (credit: Janet Ramsden)
 

The accessory structures also have lowered activity, generating thinner hair and nails, and reduced amounts of sebum and sweat. A reduced sweating ability can cause some elderly to be intolerant to extreme heat. Other cells in the skin, such as melanocytes and dendritic cells, also become less active, leading to a paler skin tone and lowered immunity. Wrinkling of the skin occurs due to breakdown of its structure, which results from decreased collagen and elastin production in the dermis, weakening of muscles lying under the skin, and the inability of the skin to retain adequate moisture.

Many anti-aging products can be found in stores today. In general, these products try to rehydrate the skin and thereby fill out the wrinkles, and some stimulate skin growth using hormones and growth factors. Additionally, invasive techniques include collagen injections to plump the tissue and injections of BOTOX® (the name brand of the botulinum neurotoxin) that paralyze the muscles that crease the skin and cause wrinkling.

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Biology of Aging by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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