Senior Beat

Tips on skincare during Maine’s changing seasons

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

I don’t need colorful leaves to tell me the seasons are changing. The backs of my hands are all too eager to share the news. While the temperatures have been mostly summer-like, my skin knows it is fall and is developing patches of dryness.

The National Institutes on Aging says that many seniors suffer from dry skin on their lower legs and arms, with elbows being a particular problem area. I would be willing to bet that feet are high on the list too. Dry skin can be itchy and uncomfortable and has a variety of causes:

  • Not drinking enough liquids – yet another reason to drink water.
  • Staying out in the sun – remember the sunscreen all year round.
  • Being in very dry air – heating season is coming so think about a humidifier now.
  • Smoking
  • Feeling stress
  • Some medicines, which can make skin itchier. If your skin is newly very dry and itchy, see your doctor.
  • Losing sweat and oil glands (common with age)

Diabetes and kidney disease can contribute to dry skin as can using too much soap. In an attempt to avoid cold and flu germs,  you are probably washing your hands constantly.

Hot water is a culprit too, so stick with warm and rinse that soap off completely. If your skin feels tight or dry after washing, that is not the right cleanser for you. Follow-up with your favorite hand cream. Every time. And don’t ignore your cuticles which can get ragged, tear and bleed. There are great cuticle creams on the market that are worth the money and time.

Take less baths opting for quick showers instead. Shower chairs are available and give you the opportunity to pamper your legs and feet without the risk of falling.

Do not use bath oil in your tub. It is just dangerous. Find a scented, sudsy shower gel and if you want to feel really special, buy the matching lotion. It’s called fragrance layering and can lift your spirits to new heights. That said, go easy on the amount used.

Part of the problem with aging skin is that it becomes thin and can bruise and scratch easily which could lead to infection. If you have a cat that gets rambunctious and playful, resulting in unintended scratches, wash with soap immediately. And fairly often, I noticed huge purple bruises on my mother. She rarely remembers running into anything, which shows how easily it can happen.

If you are thinking about exfoliating, be careful of the scrubs with hard particles, such as plastic beads (yes, plastic which are bad for the environment too) or ground up fruit pits. They can be way too rough and can also get into your eyes. This is a dangerous and painful experience. Honestly, a cheap washcloth that is a little rough is just as effective. You can make your own scrub using sugar and your favorite cleanser.

Most importantly, check your skin monthly for possible cancer. Have your health care provider watch any lesions, moles, or changes that may have occurred since your last visit. Skin cancer can be treatable if caught early.

The NIA suggests looking for changes such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a bleeding mole. They also recommend checking moles, birthmarks, or other parts of the skin for the “ABCDE’s”.

A = Asymmetry (one half of the growth looks different from the other half)

B = Borders that are irregular

C = Color changes or it’s more than one color

D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser

E = Evolving; this means the growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color.

See your doctor immediately if you have any of these signs.

A little TLC will keep your skin soft and supple.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at seniorbeat@gmail.com.

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