What’s the Deal With Crepey Skin?

Photograph by iStock

Hint: it has everything to do with the skin’s number one nemesis

The word “crepe” generally signals something good—the paper that wraps a present, thin French pancakes filled with delicious things, an airy blouse that goes with everything. But when it crops up in reference to our skin, it’s usually less gift and more grief. According to Dr. Andreas Nikolis, plastic surgeon and senior director of Victoria Park Medispa in Montreal, the common qualm of thinning and finely wrinkling skin has one overarching culprit. “Sun, sun, sun and sun,” says Dr. Nikolis. “That, in combination with things like tanning beds, changes in weight, pollution, stress, smoking, some medications and, of course, normal aging, results in a change in the balance of the skin’s health towards the spectrum of not having enough hydration, loss of collagen and loss of elasticity.”

It’s a natural process that, depending on your genetics, will likely take its course over time, but lifestyle factors can go a long way in speeding it up—or slowing it down. “As the skin gets thinner with age, and sun damage worsens the type of cells that are turned over, the skin itself can’t maintain its moisture,” says Dr. Nikolis, who recommends avoiding too much exposure to the sun’s rays when possible. When not possible—say, in the case of a particularly beautiful summer day spent by the pool, in which second and third coats of sunscreen take a backseat to second and third rounds of cocktails—the damage can be wound back slightly with the right post-sun skincare regime. “Hydrating and moisturizing is key if you are exposed to the elements,” advises Dr. Nikolis. Reach for creams rich in hyaluronic acid to treat the surface level of the skin, as well exfoliators to buff away dead skin.

Still, those basics will only tend to the top-most layer of the skin. For more advanced crepe-ing, a surface level approach isn’t going to restore those moisture levels. “Pore size is not adequate for the cream and the molecule to penetrate the skin,” says Dr. Nikolis. “You can create a barrier function and prevent more loss of water by creating that moisturized environment, taking care of the superficial aspect of the skin, but you can’t get under the skin without more invasive treatments.” Injectable hyaluronic acid made popular by companies like Galderma work to improve the quality of the skin to better absorb and retain moisture. “You’re using fillers not as fillers to create volume but to retain moisture in the skin,” says Dr. Nikolis.

If you’re not ready to go the injectable route, there are still effective options to work on that fine wrinkling, like retinol creams and fraxel laser treatments. On the prevention side of things, ensuring you’re getting enough water is important, says Dr. Nikolis, but putting yourself in a surplus position, unfortunately, won’t do any additional good. “If you don’t drink enough water, your skin will definitely show it, but if you overdo it on the water, the skin can only accommodate what the body will allow.”

As in most things, keeping skin from taking on that crepey look is a matter of balance: avoiding too much sun, practicing good skincare and staying hydrated. “An equilibrium with all these different aspects—local skincare, prevention, sun exposure, hydration of the skin, diet, water intake—is the solution,” says Dr. Nikolis. “You can be the most hydrated individual in the world, but if you keep baking in the sun, you’re doing nothing.”

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