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Skin care for older adults

Posted July 24, 2013 in Advice Column

What is our largest body organ, weighing in at nearly eight pounds, that both protects us from and connects us to the outside world? Well your skin, of course. This month we look at how to take care of our skin as we age.

With age skin becomes thin and more sensitive, making it less able to perform its barrier function. Skin’s primary role is to be a waterproof, insulating shield, protecting us against extreme temperatures, damaging sunlight and harmful chemicals. In addition, it gives off antibacterial substances that prevent infection and help our bodies manufacture vitamin D for strong, healthy bones.

The most obvious step in keeping our hide in good shape is to keep it clean. Since older skin has a tendency to be dryer and hold less moisture, bathing less frequently is recommended. Wash with warm water and trade perfumed soaps for emollients and soap substitutes. Cleanse gently instead of scrubbing. Pat dry with a towel and apply moisturizer afterwards.

This brings us to our next point: moisturize frequently. Aside from making skin smoother and softer it will keep the integrity of your skin intact and less likely to crack and bleed. Not only in summer months, but year round, wearing sunscreen daily is strongly advised. Look for one that provides protection from UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 15 or higher.

Another, less obvious, tip for keeping skin in tip top shape is to keep your fingernails trimmed. This will prevent inadvertent cuts, keeping skin infections at bay. In winter, the use of a humidifier is advised to prevent chapping.

Lastly, wear protective clothing. By minimizing the amount of skin exposed, you are protecting yourself against unnecessary scrapes and skin tears. If you’ll be spending time outdoors, add a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses for maximum protection

I hate to bring up the “C” word, but it’s necessary to address the signs of skin cancer here, too. A lifetime of exposure to the sun presents an increased risk for skin cancer in older adults. It is recommended to check yourself for moles, marks and freckles that appear asymmetrical, have an irregular border, have changed in color, have a wide diameter or have changed /evolved in any way. If you do suspect any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your regular doctor or dermatologist. It’s worth noting that early diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer is extremely important.

Skin heath is essential to the wellbeing of everyone, but particularly older adults. In clinical settings staff members are specially trained to look for potential skin problems and be proactive in their prevention. However, for those living on their own, skin care is often overlooked. So take a few extra minutes to care for your skin. After all, it is your armor and the first thing people will notice about you. Keep it looking good.

Information provided by Kristen Sheston, assistant administrator, The Continental at St. Joseph’s, 19999 Old Highway 5, Centerville, 641-437-1999.

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