Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Skin Care and Protection for Older Adults

Why is skin care and protection important?

Your skin has many functions. It protects against injury and infection and helps you feel. Your skin changes as you age. It becomes thinner and dryer and you lose the normal, protective fat layer under the skin. Your skin is injured more easily and heals more slowly. In addition to these natural changes with aging, the environment can affect your skin as well. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight (and tanning beds) and smoking can cause skin damage throughout your life. Cold, dry air can also cause your skin to dry out and crack.

What is the best way to care for dry, itchy skin?

Dry skin, which can cause itching, is very common as you get older. Your skin has fewer sweat and oil glands than when you were younger. Frequent baths and showers, especially with harsh soaps, can make your skin even drier. Your skin may be easily irritated by some cosmetics or fabrics. Medicines may cause dryness or itchiness.

Whatever the cause of dry skin, there are things you can do about it.

  • Take fewer showers or baths. Bathing just 2 or 3 times a week may be enough, depending on your activities. Keep your baths and showers short, and use warm, not hot, water.
  • Use soaps made for dry skin, such as glycerin soap with cleansing cream, and rinse well.
  • Pat yourself dry with a towel after your shower. Use a cream or lotion meant for dry skin to help keep moisture in your skin. Put more lotion on dry areas throughout the day. Avoid perfumed lotions because the perfume may irritate dry skin.
  • Wear cotton next to your skin. Wool and synthetic material can irritate dry skin and make itching worse.
  • Always shower and use lotion right away after you swim in a chlorinated pool or sit in a hot tub.
  • Avoid saunas.
  • Consider using a humidifier on cold, dry winter days.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
  • If medicines are causing you to have dry skin, ask your healthcare if there are different medicines you might use.

How does the sun damage skin and how can I protect my skin?

Skin changes as you get older happen partly because of UV radiation from the sun. Your body needs some exposure to sunshine to make vitamin D, but too much exposure can damage your skin and cause skin cancer.

Fair skin burns more easily than tanned or darker skin, but dark skin will burn, too. The closer you are to the sun (for example, living near the equator or at high altitudes), the more you will be exposed to UV radiation. Damaged skin can repair itself to some extent, so it is never too late to avoid more UV exposure.

The symptoms of sun damage are:

  • Dark “age spots,” or new moles
  • Dry, rough skin or wrinkling
  • Small blood vessels under the cheeks, nose, and ears that break, causing bruises or red spots or lines on the skin

You are most at risk of sun damage to your skin if you:

  • Have fair skin that freckles and burns easily
  • Live near the equator or at a high altitude
  • Spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors
  • Sunbathe or visit tanning salons
  • Take certain medications

Here are some ways to protect your skin from sun damage:

  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10 AM and 2 PM. Avoid getting a lot of sun and UV exposure, including tanning salons.
  • When you are out in the sun, keep your skin covered with clothing. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 on uncovered skin. Reapply sunscreen regularly.
  • Sit in the shade when you can.

Are there other things I can do to care for and protect my skin?

  • Keep your body healthy with good nutrition and enough exercise and rest.
  • Use a cream or lotion meant for dry skin every day to help keep your skin healthy. Ask someone else to put moisturizer on areas that are hard to reach.
  • Wear gloves and other protective equipment for yard work or other activities that may injure your skin. Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • If you have trouble getting in and out of bed, or out of a chair, avoid movements that rub or drag your body. These activities can easily injure dry or damaged skin.
  • In cold weather, wear gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • See your healthcare provider to have your skin checked. Check your skin regularly for new moles or moles that grow or change color. See your provider if you notice new or unusual changes in your skin.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-14
Last reviewed: 2014-08-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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