What Is Skin Turgor and What Can It Tell You?

Medically Reviewed By Darragh O'Carroll, MD
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Skin turgor is the elasticity of your skin. When you pull at your skin, it will typically snap back to its usual shape. Dehydration can cause decreased skin turgor. This is when the skin remains tented after pinching and takes longer than usual to return to its regular position. Medical professionals commonly use skin turgor as a test for dehydration. Yet research from 2007 has suggested that skin turgor alone is not a good indicator of dehydration in children and that doctors should evaluate other symptoms as well.

This article will look at skin turgor, the possible causes of decreased skin turgor, and what happens during skin turgor tests. It will also explain what typical skin turgor is and why older adults develop poor skin turgor.

What is skin turgor? 

Older man working outdoors in sunny garden
Manu Padilla/Stocksy United

Skin turgor refers to your skin’s elasticity — how quickly it returns back to its usual shape after being pulled or pinched.

To perform a skin turgor test, a medical professional will pinch the skin between two fingers so that it tents up, then let it go.

Skin with typical turgor will quickly snap back to its regular position. In skin with less turgor, skin tenting will remain, and the skin will take longer to return to its usual shape.

What causes poor skin turgor?

Dehydration is the primary cause of decreased skin turgor. Some other conditions that affect the skin can also reduce elasticity.

Dehydration

Clinicians can use skin turgor as an indicator of how severely you are dehydrated:

Dehydration levelFluid loss as % of body weightSkin turgor
mildless than 5%typical, with instant response
moderatebetween 5–9%slightly decreased response time
severe (shock)10% or greatersignificantly delayed response time

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a genetic condition that affects connective tissue. This can cause hyperextensibility in the skin. Hyperextensibility means the skin can stretch more than 0.6 inches (in), or 1.5 centimeters (cm), when you gently pull it.

Because of this, doctors use the skin turgor test as part of the diagnosis for EDS.

Scleroderma

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder that causes areas of scar-like tissue on the skin. This results in skin that becomes hardened and thickened.

When doctors perform a skin turgor test on someone with scleroderma, they may be unable to pinch or fold any skin due to its rigidity, according to 2009 research.

What are treatments for poor skin turgor?

If decreased skin turgor is mild and due to dehydration, treatment involves drinking more fluids.

If dehydration occurs as a result of another health condition, you may find it difficult to drink due to nausea or vomiting. In this case, starting with small sips can help you get used to drinking again. This will aid hydration and help your skin’s turgor return to its typical elasticity. 

Regular hydration is vital to maintain good health and help prevent many health conditions. You can stay hydrated by drinking at least 6–8 glasses of water each day.

If decreased skin turgor results from another condition, such as scleroderma or EDS, your doctor can discuss treatments to help manage your symptoms.

What are other symptoms of dehydration?

Dehydration happens when your body does not have enough of the fluids it needs. This can happen if you do not consume enough fluids or you lose more fluids than you take in.

You may experience dehydration simply as a result of not drinking enough water.

Conditions such as gastroenteritis can cause dehydration due to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating, according to NHS Inform, the national health service of Scotland.

Decreased skin turgor is just one symptom of fluid loss and dehydration. Other symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include:

  • dark yellow urine
  • excessive thirst
  • feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or tired
  • dry mouth, lips, and eyes
  • urinating fewer than 4 times per day
  • in children, lack of tears when crying
  • in infants, fewer than 6 wet diapers per day

When should you see a doctor for poor skin turgor?

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Call 911 or local emergency services, or go to the emergency room, if poor skin turgor occurs with symptoms including:

Some groups of people are at higher risk for dehydration, per NHS Inform. This includes:

  • infants
  • older adults
  • people with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes
  • athletes or other people who exercise for long periods of time
  • people who work outdoors in hot weather

For people in these groups, contact your doctor or pediatrician for any symptoms of dehydration.

If mild to moderate symptoms of dehydration do not improve with home treatment, contact your doctor.

How do doctors test skin turgor?

To test skin turgor, a doctor or other clinician will pinch an area of skin — often on your forearm or abdomen — between two of their fingers.

Skin with typical turgor will quickly return back to its usual shape. Skin with decreased turgor takes longer to go back to its regular position.

Other frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about skin turgor.

What is typical skin turgor time?

Typical skin turgor time is instant recall, when skin immediately returns back to its usual position after you or a health professional lets it go. Any delay in response is a sign of decreased skin turgor, which may indicate dehydration.

Where do elderly people get skin turgor?

Many older adults have reduced skin turgor due to the typical aging process. This can make it difficult to use a skin turgor test to determine whether an older adult is dehydrated.

For people in this age group, doctors recommend testing skin turgor over the sternum and on the forehead. These areas typically keep their natural skin turgor longer than others.

Summary

Your skin turgor is the elasticity of your skin. Doctors test skin turgor by gently grasping skin so that it is tented upward, then releasing it.

Healthy skin will rapidly return back to its usual position. Skin with decreased turgor will take longer to go back to its regular shape.

Poor skin turgor is a common sign of dehydration. Other dehydration symptoms include dark urine, excessive thirst, and less frequent urination.

Home care involves drinking fluids to rehydrate your body. If symptoms do not improve, contact your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Darragh O'Carroll, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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