Advanced female age and extended in vitro culture have both been implicated in zona pellucida (ZP) hardening and thickening. This study aimed to determine the influence of (i) the woman's age and (ii) prolonged in vitro culture of embryos on ZP thickness and density using non-invasive polarized light (LC-PolScope) microscopy. ZP thickness and density (measured as retardance) were determined in oocytes, embryos and blastocysts in women undergoing intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) in two age groups (older, >38 years; younger, ≤38 years). A total of 193 oocytes from 29 patients were studied. The younger group contained 100 oocytes and the older group 93 oocytes. The ZP was significantly thicker in metaphase II oocytes in the older group compared with the younger group (mean ± SD: 24.1 ± 2.5 μm vs 23.1 ± 3.3 μm; p = 0.01) but ZP density was equal (2.8 ± 0.7 nm). By day 2 of culture, embryos from the two groups had similar ZP thickness (22.2 ± 2.2 μm vs 21.7 ± 1.6 μm; p = 0.28) and density (2.9 ± 0.7 nm vs 2.8 ± 0.8 nm; p = 0.57). For the embryos cultured to blastocyst (older: n = 20; younger: n = 18) ZP thickness was similar in the two groups (19.2 ± 2.7 μm vs 19.1 ± 5.0 μm; p = 0.8) but thinner than on day 2. The older group had significantly denser ZP than the younger group (4.2 ± 0.5 nm vs 3.3 ± 1.0 nm, p < 0.01). Blastocysts from both groups had significantly denser ZP than their corresponding day 2 embryos (older: 4.2 ± 0.5 nm vs 2.9 ± 0.7 nm, p < 0.001; younger: 3.3 ± 1.0 nm vs 2.8 ± 0.8 nm, p = 0.013). It is concluded that there is little relationship between ZP thickness and its density as measured by polarized light microscopy. While ZP thickness decreases with extended embryo culturing, the density of the ZP increases. ZP density increases in both age groups with extended culture and, interestingly, more in embryos from older compared with younger women.