No matter what we do, there is one part of our body that is likely to be unprotected – our skin. As the body’s largest organ, our skin is one of the most susceptible parts of our body to damage, especially as we age. However, the more we know, the better armed we are to protect our skin well into our golden years.
Senior Skin Susceptibility
As we age, the skin undergoes many changes. It can become dry, blotchy, wrinkled, and show signs of sagging. It can also show increasing signs of skin cancer as a person gets older.
Changes to our skin happen for many reasons. For one thing, most of us enjoy time in the sun. Unfortunately, sun exposure comes with a price. Ultraviolet rays break down the elastic tissue in our skin, which leaves it more prone to sagging, wrinkles, and bruising. The sun also dries our skin out, which can lead to chronic dryness. Lastly, as we all know, more time in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer.
There are also many lifestyle factors that contribute to the health of our skin as we age. Smoking, lifestyle, diet, and obesity are just a few. And one often overlooked factor that can impact elderly skin health is the amount of time spent in a nursing home. According to one expert, it’s estimated that up to 30%-40% of patients in a nursing home at any given time has a fungal infection.
Conditions Associated with Aging Skin
Just as seniors’ susceptibility to skin problems increases with age, so does the variety of skin conditions they may find themselves coping with.
Dry Skin and Itching
As skin loses elasticity and fatty tissue in the dermal layer, the risk of dry skin increases. Dry, rough spots may begin to appear on the lower legs, elbows, and lower arms. Some risk factors for dry, itchy skin include too much time in the sun, low humidity, losing sweat and oil glands, not drinking enough liquids, diabetes, and kidney disease, as well as using too much soap, antiperspirant, or perfume, and taking hot baths. Lastly, some medicines can make skin itchy as an adverse side effect.
Similarly, due to loss of skin elasticity and fatty tissue, skin can become more fragile as an individual ages. Increased likelihood of bruising easily is a common result of this fact. And also, like dry, itchy skin, some medicines or illnesses may also cause bruising as a side effect.
Decreased skin elasticity can also lead to wrinkles in a person’s skin. Moreover, lifestyle factors such as time in the sun and smoking, among other things, can make skin more likely to wrinkle.
Age Spots and Skin Tags
Age spots are flat, brown spots – larger than freckles – often caused by years in the sun. They commonly show up on areas like the face, hands, arms, back, and feet. Skin tags are small, flesh-colored growths of skin that have a raised surface. They are a common feature of aging skin, especially for women.
The main cause of skin cancer is the sun, and as we mentioned before, our skin becomes more susceptible to ultraviolet light as we age. There are three main types of skin cancers:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The first two types, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. These types of cancer are usually found on parts of the skin most often exposed to the sun, like the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. The third, and most dangerous, type of skin cancer is melanoma. It is less common than the first two types, but it can also spread to other organs very easily and become deadly.
With age, dryness, and cracking, skin becomes more susceptible to infection. The most common skin infections in the elderly are as follows:
- Bacterial Infection
- Viral Infection
- Fungal Infection
These infections are commonly identified through skin scraping, hair shaft, and nail clipping samples that are then sent to mycology labs, direct microscopy, and cultures. Common sites for skin infection include any chronic wounds, as well as feet, buttocks, and axillae. In cases of open wounds, wound swabs can also be used for identification of a secondary bacterial infection.
Maintaining Healthy Skin
Maintaining healthy skin begins with awareness. As we know, sun exposure can increase the likelihood of many skin problems. For this reason, it’s recommended to limit time in the sun, and especially during peak hours between 10 AM and 4 PM. Sunscreen with an SPF number of 15 or higher should also be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every 2 hours.
Wearing protective clothing can also help protect the skin from sun exposure. A hat with a wide brim, for instance, can help shield the face, while long sleeve shirts and long pants can help protect the arms and legs. Lastly, when it comes to protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays, tanning beds should be avoided at all costs.
Keeping the skin moisturized is the key to preventing dry itching skin. Using moisturizers, such as ointments, lotions, and creams daily can help. Using humidifiers and avoiding hot baths are also effective ways to help stave off skin dryness.
Healthy Skin and Overall Health
Maintaining healthy skin begins with maintaining overall health. Eating a healthy diet, exercising daily, and avoiding obesity all go a long way toward healthy skin and improved longevity.
As the body’s largest organ, skin is enormously important. It protects our body against the entrance of harmful bacteria. Through minimizing sun exposure, keeping the skin moist, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we can keep our skin happy and healthy for many years to come.
This guest post was graciously provided by Farlyn Lucas