As you age, your skin naturally ages along with you. The production of collagen and elastin slows down, which causes your skin to lose some elasticity. Skin also becomes thinner and more fragile; glands lose their ability to effectively moisturize the skin; and it’s therefore common for older adults to have dry skin. Besides these natural effects of aging, the environment can have a compounding effect, including when a person gets too much sun or has been exposed to harsh weather conditions. A person’s ethnicity and heredity are also factors in how his or her skin ages.
How can you reduce the development and aggravating effects of dry skin? We’ve gathered skincare tips for older adults from Careful Attention to Aging Skin by Today's Geriatric Medicine, Skin Care: 5 Tips for Healthy Skin by the Mayo Clinic, Aging Changes in Skin by Medline, Skin Care and Aging by the National Institute on Aging, and Keep Your Skin Healthy by the National Institutes of Health, Senior Health.
Tip #1: Wash Gently
Use warm water rather than hot when you wash, and avoid taking too many baths or showers. Use mild cleansers rather than harsh soaps and alcohol-based products. Avoid bath oils as they make the tub slippery, increasing the risk of falling.
Tip #2: Moisturize Your Skin
Consider a fragrance-free moisturizer and keep your skin well-hydrated to help prevent the cracking and itchiness that can accompany dry skin. This will help to prevent the “itch-scratch-rash-itch cycle.”
Tip #3: Be Sun-Smart
Stay out of the sun, whenever possible, during the time when rays are strongest: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can get sunburned even when it’s cloudy or when you’re in water. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 15 or more. Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going out and reapply every two hours. Avoid sunlamps, tanning beds and tanning pills.
Tip #4: Dress to Protect
Wear “loose, lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants or long skirts,” along with a wide-brimmed hat. Also wear sunglasses that block the sun’s rays.
Tip #5: Don’t Smoke!
Smoking damages your skin in numerous ways, contributing to wrinkles and otherwise aging your skin. Blood vessels in the outer layer of skin narrow in smokers, reducing blood flow and depleting the skin of nutrients and oxygen. Collagen and elastin, which provide elasticity in skin, are damaged by smoking, as well.
Tip #6: Eat Better
Even “minor nutritional deficiencies can cause rashes, skin lesions and other skin changes.” Make sure you're getting a healthy mix in your diet.
Tip #7: Drink Up!
Make sure you get enough fluid. When you dehydrate, your skin does, too—and this also increases the chances you’ll injure your skin.
Tip #8: Humidify
Put a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air.
Tip #9: Limit Drying Substances
Using too much soap, perfume or antiperspirant can make dry skin worse.
Tip #10: See a Doctor
If you follow all of these other tips and still have dry, itchy skin, ask your doctor for help. He or she may check you for diabetes or kidney disease, as well as provide topical recommendations for relief.