We worry about the health and function of our internal organs, but we often fail to think about the health of one of our largest organs that we look at every day – the skin. It is a tough, pliable, ever changing organ that protects our bodies in harsh environments and keeps us safe from many different types of micro-organisms. As we age, it’s important to protect the skin and give it special care so that it can continue to act as the body’s first line of defense.
The Function of Skin
The average human is cloaked in 21 square feet of skin. It’s a complicated organ with many different layers and highly specialized cells that perform many vital functions:
- Serves as a protective barrier against microorganisms
- Shields the delicate, sensitive tissues underneath from mechanical and other injuries
- Acts as an insulator against heat and cold
- Eliminates body wastes in the form of perspiration
- Guards against excessive exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun by producing protective pigmentation
- Helps produce the body’s supply of vitamin D
- Uses sense receptors to enable the body to feel pain, cold, heat, touch, and pressure
The Layers of Skin
- Epidermis: the top layer of the skin, the layer that gives skin its color, continuously makes new cells and is part of the immune system
- Dermis: the second layer of skin contains nerve endings, communicates with the brain, grows hair, and brings blood to and from the skin
- Subcutaneous fat: the bottom layer that attaches the skin to muscle and bones, holds blood cells, nerve endings and regulates body temperature
The Aging of Skin
Just like our other organs, the skin can be strong and protective, but it can also become weak and ill. As we age, the skin needs more care because it becomes thinner, weaker and has less elasticity. The things we did in our youth – like spending time in the sun without using sunscreen, can begin to catch up with us and cause skin disease. In fact, unprotected sun exposure over a lifetime is one of the greatest risk factors for healthy skin. It can cause long term damage and skin cancer. Other risk factors include:
- Air pollution and other environmental factors
- Genetic factors
- Nutrition and hydration
Skin Cancer Detection
You can be the first line of defense and detect potentially cancerous growths on your skin. If you see something suspicious, seek important early detection and treatment.
Precancerous growths are called actinic keratosis (AK). They usually appear after the age of 40 as the result of years of sun exposure without proper protection. AKs have several characteristics:
- First appear as a patch of rough skin
- May be painful if rubbed
- May appear as dry, scaly, pink, or red patches on the face
- Commonly appear on the backs of the hands as pink patches
- May appear as white, scaly patches on the skin
- May look like brown age spots, but rough to the touch
- May appear as a white, rough patch on the inside of the lip
If you detect any of these, have them checked by a dermatologist. It is very important to detect precancerous skin growths at the earliest possible stage when there are many different, effective treatments. Left unchecked, these precancerous growths may turn into skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
Skin care for aging skin
A good skin care routine will protect your skin and keep it as healthy as possible. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following for seniors over the age of 60.
- Always protect your skin from the sun
- Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day
- Seek shade when outdoors
- Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun
- Avoid dry, itchy skin by taking a bath instead of a shower.
- Use a moisturizing cleanser instead of bar soap which can dry the skin
- Use warm water, a soft cloth and moisturize the skin immediately after getting out of the bath
- Use a humidifier to combat the effect of heat and air conditioning, which can strip indoor air of its humidity and dry it out
- Wear gloves while working in the garden and doing housework to avoid exposure to irritating chemicals
- See a dermatologist for skin exams to detect any precancerous growths early
- Check your own skin regularly
The skin is your first line of defense to heat and cold, sun and snow. It’s nerve endings are an important warning system and its thermostat helps you navigate the seasons as well as indoor and outdoor climates. It is not only one of our largest organs but one of our most valuable. Taking care of the skin is important to aging healthfully and well.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.