How to Care for Aging Skin

Serious Skin Conditions that Go Beyond the Cosmetic

Bedsores are a serious worry for people in wheelchairs and hospital beds.
Bedsores are a serious worry for people in wheelchairs and hospital beds.

While we may not be happy that we have them, wrinkles don't really hurt anything but our ego. In addition to cosmetic concerns, there are more serious skin conditions that we may encounter as we age. We've talked about the importance of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, and this can't be emphasized enough, but some skin conditions may be less well-known.

Dry skin is often more of an annoyance than anything else. But extremely dry skin goes beyond just being itchy and flaky -- it can crack and bleed. People with extremely dry skin can get ulcers -- places where the top layer or even lower layers of the skin have rubbed off completely. This opens up the possibility of infection, and depending on health and age, can become an extremely serious problem. People with skin at this extreme need more than a thick moisturizing lotion. They need to avoid taking hot showers or baths and use mild cleansers to avoid drying out the skin. In addition, running a humidifier to keep the air moist and treating cracked skin with antibiotic ointment can help prevent infections.

Another kind of ulcer affects people who have limited mobility: bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers. These occur when parts of the body are under extreme pressure for long periods of time, like with a person who can't shift positions in bed or in a wheelchair without assistance. Circulation is cut off, damaging the skin and underlying tissue. A mild bedsore can quickly turn into something much worse. Stage I bedsores are red, hot patches that heal soon after the pressure is relieved. Stage IV bedsores are deep wounds that penetrate to the bone and can lead to life-threatening infections such as sepsis, cellulitis and cancer. Sometimes bedsores are treated through removal of dead tissue or the use of antibiotics, but prevention is key -- staying clean and dry and moving or being shifted often.

People who have limited mobility may also suffer from skin rashes such as "prickly heat," or miliaria. This looks like patches of small red blisters and occurs when the sweat ducts on the skin's surface get clogged. Skin with prickly heat is red, irritated and itchy, and usually the worst areas are where skin rubs against skin, such as the underarms. The skin should be kept clean, cool and dry, and sweating should be avoided -- a little air conditioning goes a long way. Powders and other products to absorb moisture also help, as does frequent movement.

While you may never experience any of these more serious skin conditions, it's important to be aware of all of the things that may impact your skin as it ages. After all, it's your body's biggest organ. Caring for aging skin can require more diligence, but it is possible to have healthy skin for a lifetime.

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