By: Kelly Lanzon
Aging skin is more susceptible to dryness, skin tears, rashes, hardened and thickened patches of irritated skin. Dry skin occurs in older adults due to age-related skin changes or it can signify underlying medical problems. Other factors such as the environment, genetics, and ethnicity are also contributing factors.
Since dry skin can lead to other skin complications, it’s important to monitor carefully. Over scratching an area of skin can cause cellulitis and if it’s not caught early, cellulitis can lead to a hospital stay requiring IV antibiotics. Every break in the elderly person’s skin is a potential spot for infection.
Age-related dermal changes include thinner epidermal layer (outer layer of skin), reduced skin cell turnover, reduced production of sebaceous oils, and the skin’s limited capacity to retain moisture. Skin loses its elasticity as the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. Due to these changes, skin becomes progressively thinner, more fragile, less elastic, and drier. Even the natural oil-producing sebaceous glands gradually lose their ability to moisturize the skin.
Self care activities like showering or bathing are important for general health and cleanliness however, using harsh chemical based soaps, scrubbing, hot water, and alcohol based products will dry skin out. Using waterless antibacterial cleansers contain alcohol that can dry out the skin. Even over-the-counter antiaging creams can be quite drying and actually harsh on the skin.
A common symptom of dry skin is itching, and severe itching can lead to an “itch-scratch-rash-itch” cycle. The skin may become thickened in these areas from rubbing, and repeated skin rubbing in the same area may lead to chronic skin conditions.
Conservative Treatment to Start
- Use bath products which are mild, don’t strip the skin of its natural protective qualities. Most commercial soaps are actually detergents. Their pH is acidic compared to the neutral pH of skin. They contain harsh chemicals which leaves the skin struggling to maintain a healthy barrier. Elderly skin responds well to organic soaps which are made with a wide variety of vegetable oils through the process called saponification. Helping Hearts Soap Shoppe carries a great variety of crafted, organic soaps which leave skin feeling clean, light with no residue film which can block pores.
- Wash gently. Avoid hot baths, frequent showering or bathing, and excessive skin scrubbing. Keep the water warm because hot water tends to strip away the natural oils produced by the skin.
- Gently pat dry skin with a cotton towel after a bath or shower, then apply a liberal amount of emollient moisturizing lotion to hydrate skin. Keep a moisturizer in the bathroom and apply a thick moisturizer within three minutes of taking a bath or shower and apply it more than once per day.
- If the moisturizer isn’t enough then adding Alpha-Hydroxy-Acids can help break down thickened dry skin cells.
- Avoid strong soaps and detergents, wear cotton and natural fiber clothing, avoid wool clothing.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Use a humidifier in the home when necessary.
- Limit sun exposure.
- Pay attention to the skin. Examining elderly skin should always include evaluating their skin for signs of cancer or other conditions. Be sure to look for new growths or moles that appear to be changing. Identify skin changes such as peeling, chapped, red, or pruritic skin.
- Check elderly feet. In older individuals the skin of the feet often gets dry and becomes susceptible to corns, calluses, warts, and fungal infections.
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