The Lamen

Hyperelastic Skin: Is Stretchy Skin a warning sign?

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Stretchy skin is typically a sign that you’re healthy and hydrated. However, abnormal stretchiness — known as skin hyperelasticity — can be a sign of some genetic disorder.

Photo: Unsplash

Published on Feb 12, 2023

Normal healthy skin is of an even tone, unblemished, plump, firm, and yes, elastic. This elasticity is imparted by elastin — a protein roughly 1,000 times more flexible than collagen, giving your skin its characteristic stretchiness.

The production of elastin decreases as you age, and is also affected by damage from environmental stressors — resulting in looser, sagging skin that’s a telltale sign of aging. But what if you notice your skin to be abnormally stretchy?

A “pinch test” — also called the “skin turgor test” — can often help determine if your skin is “the right kind” of stretchy.

  • Begin by keeping your hand relaxed and palm facing down, then pinch the skin on the back of your hand — holding for 5 seconds.
  • Release the skin and count how long it takes to flatten completely.
  • If it takes longer than a second or two (it may take longer in older individuals), it can indicate poor skin elasticity.

The pinch test is typically used to test for dehydration, but when the lack of fluids isn’t a concern, it may indicate a condition called hyperelastic skin.

What’s skin hyperelasticity, and do you have it?

While hyperelastic skin can occur as a standalone condition, it is typically a side-effect of other genetic disorders.

  • Hyperelastic skin (also called skin hyperextensibility) is most common in people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a group of 13 heritable genetic disorders that cause problems with connective tissue — causing stretchy skin that bruises easily.
  • Other common symptoms of EDS are very flexible joints, atrophic scarring, and fragile blood vessels.
  • The condition affects an estimated 1 in 5,000 people.

Such disorders result in skin stretching beyond what’s normal, although it returns to its original shape upon release. Skin hyperelasticity can be difficult to identify. especially in infants.

Diagnosing stretchy skin.

During a skin examination, a doctor is interested in any changes in the skin, such as texture and appearance. You can expect the following questions during an examination:

  • what changes have you noticed
  • when they first appeared
  • whether you have been taking any medications
  • if you have a family history of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • if you have a family history of other skin conditions

If your doctor suspects you to have EDS, they will follow up with an examination of your joints as well. You may be recommended to see a geneticist to narrow down the diagnosis with the specific type of EDS.

Treatment and prevention.

There is no specific treatment for hyperelastic skin. If you have been diagnosed with EDS, management with physical therapy, RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), and prescription medications can help keep symptoms at bay.

Another condition that may cause hyperelasticity is Marfan’s syndrome, which can only be managed by medication or surgery to avoid severe symptoms.

Being a genetic disorder, skin hyperelasticity can’t be prevented, and managing the underlying cause is the only way to avoid the worsening of symptoms or other complications.