Skin is the body's first line of protection against harm. It shields us from infection, impact and the environment. "Age brings a number of changes that can compromise the skin's ability to protect us," says Cynthia Fleck, a registered nurse and vice president of clinical marketing for Advanced Skin and Wound Care at Medline, which manufactures skin care products and educational resources for seniors.
"As the skin ages it becomes thinner, less resilient and much drier," Fleck explains. "The layers of skin can easily separate, tearing the paper-like upper-most area called the epidermis. The skin cells do not 'turn over,' or replenish themselves as quickly as when we are young. Therefore, the old skin cells become clumped and do not function as efficiently as young, healthy skin cells do."
Fleck offers the following advice on how to care for aging skin:
♦ "Drying is the single largest skin problem among the aged," says Fleck. She recommends avoiding a daily shower or bath, which can contribute to dry skin. Instead, opt for gentle cleansing with soap and surfactant-free (detergent-free) cleansers of the kind that do not need to be rinsed. These cleansers do the job of removing dirt and natural oils, but do not impact the natural acid balance of mature skin.
♦ Since older skin cannot retain moisture as well as young skin, it's essential to moisturize on a daily basis. "There are new, advanced skin-care products that actually nourish the skin from the outside in, delivering amino acids (proteins), vitamins, antioxidants and ingredients that are gentle and soothing, making the skin more resilient and strengthening it," says Fleck.
♦ Take care to avoid bumps that can tear the skin, or caustic substances that can disrupt the skin's ability to protect. Immobile seniors who must use adult diapers should have special care taken to keep them clean and free of irritants. "Barrier products that contain protectants like dimethicone and other silicones, as well as zinc oxide, can help protect the skin from these problems," Fleck says.
♦ Continue to protect your skin from the sun. As we age, the skin cells that protect us from the sun (melanocytes) do not work as well. As a result, older skin burns easily. Stay out of the sun as much as possible, and when out, wear protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen.
♦ Be aware of special skin care needs that often accompany some common diseases, such as diabetes. For example, diabetics need to take particular care in protecting their skin, especially on extremities.
♦ Avoid strong antibacterial soaps with high pH, which can further dry aging skin. Astringents and products that contain alcohol can also be harsh and damaging to older skin.
"Many seniors don't know what products they need and often can't get out of the house to get them," Fleck says. "The Internet has made it easier to order products online and keep them handy for daily skin care, but not all seniors have online access or know how to use the Internet."
"Health care professionals are a great source of information and can relay simple instructions for daily skin care and protection while suggesting new products to help seniors in their routine," she says.
To learn more about skin care products, visit www.medline.com/woundcare.