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Solar elastosis

Author: Dr Beth Wright, Medical Registrar, Perth, Australia, 2012.


What is solar elastosis?

Solar elastosis is a disorder in which the skin appears yellow and thickened as a result of sun damage. Solar elastosis is also known as actinic elastosis and elastosis senilis.

What does solar elastosis look like?

To the naked eye, the skin appears yellow and thick, with bumps, wrinkles or furrowing.

Solar elastosis

How is solar elastosis diagnosed?

Solar elastosis is diagnosed clinically by its appearance or microscopically on skin biopsy. Histology shows loss of eosin staining on H&E sections resulting in a bluish colour of the upper dermis with an accumulation of irregularly thickened elastic fibres. These elastic fibres degrade to form disorganised tropoelastin and fibrillin tangled structures.

The differential diagnosis of solar elastosis on the hands includes keratoelastoidalis marginalis, which is an acquired form of marginal keratoderma affecting the sides of the index fingers and thumbs. 

Who gets solar elastosis?

Solar elastosis affects people who have had long-term sun exposure and is a feature of photoageing. It affects individuals of all skin types but its yellow hue is more obvious in white-skinned individuals.


Solar elastosis is also a manifestation of premature skin ageing caused by smoking.

Tobacco smoke affects the production of collagen and increases the production of tropoelastin and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP). These degrade matrix proteins and produce abnormal elastosis material in the dermis (1). The elastic fibre changes in smokers extend deep into the reticular dermis whereas in sun damage these changes tend to be restricted to the more superficial papillary dermis. (2)

Prevention and treatment of solar elastosis

People with solar elastosis should minimise or avoid exposure to its known precipitants:

Ablative and non-ablative laser treatments, dermal fillers, and neurotoxin injections (botulinum toxin) have been used in an attempt to improve the cosmetic appearance of solar elastosis.

It has been suggested that imiquimod may help to improve the histological appearance of sun damaged skin, including elastotic changes in the dermis, but this is unconfirmed (3).



  1. Morita A. Tobacco smoke causes premature skin aging. J Dermatol Sci. 2007;48(3):169–75. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2007.06.015. Epub 2007 Oct 24. PubMed
  2. Sander CS, et al. Photoaging is associated with protein oxidation in human skin in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 2002 Apr;118(4):618–25. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.2002.01708.x. PubMed
  3. Smith K, Hamza S, Germain M, Skelton H. Does imiquimod histologically rejuvenate ultraviolet radiation-damaged skin? Dermatol Surg. 2007 Dec;33(12):1419-28; discussion 1428–9. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2007.33311.x. PubMed

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