Ask the Expert
The Necessity of Skin Care
By Nora L. Howley
We often think of skin care as a summer issue. Who has not heard the calls to use sunscreen and cover up? But taking care of your skin is a year-round necessity.
As we age, our skin changes. It may be dryer and more brittle.
We may bruise more easily. Skin may wrinkle; we may have age spots or find ourselves with skin tags. And with skin cancer being the most common cancer in the U.S., we have a reason to pay close attention to our skin that goes beyond just how we look. In this article we look at some of the most common skin issues related to aging.
Of all the changes in our bodies as we age, nothing is more identified with aging in our culture than wrinkles. We may see them as a sign of a life well lived or a testament to years of hard work. Regardless of our view, the simple truth is that wrinkles are primarily caused by gravity and long-term exposure to the sun (which makes skin less elastic). If you are concerned about your wrinkles, talk to a dermatologist or your regular health care provider. Although there are many products that claim to be able to make wrinkles go away, many of them don’t work and some are harmful.
Another fact of aging is that we bruise more easily and bruises may take longer to heal. The National Institute on Aging recommends seeing your doctor if you find that you are getting bruises and you don’t know how you got them. There are a number of medications and illnesses that can cause unexplained bruising and only a health care professional can determine the actual cause.
Spots and Tags
Like wrinkles, age spots (also sometimes called “liver spots”) are caused by long-term sun exposure. They are harmless, but they should be watched as part of your routine skin cancer checks. Skin tags are small flesh-colored growths of skin with a raised surface. Like spots, they are harmless, but they can become irritated. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about either spots or tags.
Dry skin is a common symptom of aging. Here too, sun exposure is a common cause. Some other causes may be mild dehydration, extremely dry air, smoking, stress, losing sweat, and oil glands. Other common causes include soaps, deodorants, and some medicines.
To help alleviate dry skin, you can try using moisturizing creams or lotions, switching soaps, or using a humidifier. If these don’t help, talk to your doctor as dry skin may be a symptom of diabetes or kidney disease.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 2 million new cases of skin cancer in 2012. It is the most common cancer, and although the basal cell and squamous cell types are rarely fatal, melanomas are fast acting and treatment must begin early.
Because skin cancers are rarely painful, it is particularly important to check your skin once a month for things that might be cancer. Look for changes such as a new growth, a sore that won’t heal, or a bleeding mole. Check birthmarks, moles, and other areas of the skin for changes. You may want to ask a partner or friend to check areas of your back that you cannot see for changes in your skin.
ABCDE’s for your monthly skin check
A symmetry (one half the growth looks different from the other half)
B orders that are irregular
C olor changes or more than one color
D iameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser
E volving: This means the growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (such as itching or tenderness, surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color.
Adapted from the National Institute on Aging
If you have diabetes, you are at greater risk of skin problems. Elevated blood glucose can cause the body to lose fluid, thereby drying out the skin. Another factor in dry skin is a decrease in sweat production caused by diabetes-related nerve damage. Dry skin is more likely to crack, making you susceptible to infection (which your body may have a harder time fighting if your glucose levels are elevated). People with diabetes need to take extra care of their skin while managing their glucose levels. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions related to diabetes and your skin.
Skin Health Basics
• Limit the time you spend in the sun. Ideally you should stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Don’t forget that you can get sunburned while in the water.
• Use sunscreen and use it properly. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of greater than 15 and one that offers “broad spectrum” protection. Select a sunscreen that is water resistant, if you are going to be sweating or in the water. Find a brand that you like so you will actually use it. And remember, sunscreen is not just for summer.
• Wear protective clothing. This can include a wide-brim hat, sunglasses, and lightweight long-sleeve shirts.
• Avoid tanning. Do not use tanning beds or sun reflectors.
• Stay hydrated. Drinking water can help to prevent dry skin.
Skin Health Resources
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