Did you know that a large percentage of adults develop phimosis well into their adulthood? In fact, it is not uncommon for someone to develop phimosis in their 50s, 60s or even 70s. Quiet often the sufferer is surprised to see their foreskin progressively tighten and interfere with normal hygiene or even sexual function.
While infections can be one reason for developing phimosis, another more common reason has to do with what happens to of our foreskin as we age.
When someone talks about the aging of our skin, the first thought that comes to mind are wrinkles around the eyes or sagging around the neck. However, as we get older, the very changes that happen to the skin on our face also happen to our foreskin.
Let’s take a closer look …
Our foreskin has 3 main layers, each with a specific function:
The Protective Epidermis – This is the outermost layer of your foreskin that creates a waterproof barrier to the layers underneath. At less than a tenth of a millimeter thick, it is the thinnest layer of the foreskin. At the bottom of this layer, new skin foreskin cells are constantly dividing and moving to the top. Over the course of weeks these newly divided cells move to the topmost layer and flatten out, eventually being shed from the foreskin. In a young person, this process happens quickly. In fact, during our younger years, we shed about 10,000 foreskin cells an hour.
The Tough Dermis – This is middle layer of the foreskin right under the epidermis. Though it is less than half a millimeter thick, it is the thickest layer of the foreskin. It contains blood vessels, nerves and oil glands. It supports the epidermis layer above by nourishing it with nutrients. It also contains collagen and elastic tissue, creating a mesh that gives our foreskin its strength and flexibility.
The “Cushiony” Subcutis – This is the deepest layer of our foreskin. The fat tissue in this layer provides our foreskin with a cushion that absorbs shock from physical trauma. Like the dermis layer above, it also contains collagen and elastin that give our skin its elasticity and firmness.
What happens as we age:
As we get older the foreskin undergoes changes that increase the likelihood of developing phimosis. Even though the number of layers in our foreskin remains the same, each one of these 3 layers experiences unique changes…
The epidermis becomes thinner – While in younger people the epidermis actively creates new skin cells that quickly travel upward and are shed, aging slows down the production of new skin cells. Also, when these cells get to the top layer, they aren’t easily shed and begin to pile on top of the foreskin surface. This makes your foreskin rougher and drier.
The dermis loses its elasticity – The organized structural fibers in this layer begin to breakdown and become disorganized. The collagen and elastin scaffolding that provides your foreskin with its strength becomes weaker and the foreskin becomes less elastic. Just like the epidermis above it, the dermis also becomes thinner and more fragile.
The Subcutis loses its fat – Aging also causes our foreskin to lose almost 20% of its fat, taking away much of its ability to cushion physical shock and trauma. Without ample subcutaneous fat, our foreskin is truly vulnerable to physical harm, especially when even the top layers of skin begin to come under duress.
This triple whammy hurts our foreskin in 2 main ways:
Our foreskin injures easier
Our foreskin heals slower
The overall effect of aging on our foreskin is that it begins to lose its structural integrity layer by layer and the specialized function of each layer becomes compromised. The foreskin that was once flexible, strong and healthy can begin to experience micro-injuries from even normal activity.
Simply pulling or stretching the foreskin can cause it to tear. Even the blood vessels in deeper layers become fragile and are easily broken.
Even worse, the foreskin can take 4-5 times longer to heal, meanwhile other injuries may begin to accumulate and further strain the foreskin.
In the midst of all this, the one factor that continually causes the greatest risk of developing phimosis is – Scarring.
Scarring is the normal process of injury repair to the skin and an important part of healing. However, as we get older our wound healing abilities are subpar. While scar tissue is normally made up of the same collagen that is found in normal foreskin, the fibers that it forms in the injury site are nothing like the organized structures found in healthy tissue.
The collagen fibers in scar tissue are aligned in a way that make it less flexible than normal collagen fibers. This can translate into your foreskin tightening as it heals from a micro-injury.
The final and most destructive part of all this damage is how it makes your foreskin problem progressively worse.
Since your foreskin now has some of its healthy and strong fibrous mesh replaced by the weaker and inferior scar tissue, you are more likely to experience foreskin injury. This injury will in turn create more scar tissue which repeats the cycle of increasing damage and continues to tighten the foreskin.
When it comes to the foreskin,
Aging = Weaker foreskin = Foreskin injuries = Foreskin scarring = Tight foreskin (phimosis).
While this explains why we are more prone to foreskin damage and phimosis as we age, it is also important to realize that you can prevent much of this damage in the long term and maintain optimal foreskin health.
There is a lot you can do to keep your foreskin healthy and if you have developed phimosis, there is a lot you can do to reverse your phimosis.