Aging and What To Do About It - Skin problems

As a person grows older, his skin begins to wrinkle; oil and sweat glands slow down, causing the skin to become dry. Also, the skin may lack the elasticity and tone of normal skin, and this might cause changes in facial contours.

However, the skin, like other parts of the body, tends to age according to various factors. Among prime agers of the skin are exposure to sunlight and weather; the sailor and chronic sunbather may have older-looking skin than their years. Also, hereditary and racial factors influence skin age.


The skin often itches as one grows older. Itching usually stems from external irritations or internal diseases. External irritations may be more severe in winter because of lack of humidity and because the skin oil does not spread properly. Too many baths or wearing wool garments could also cause itching. You can correct this by cutting down on bathing, maintaining correct temperature and humidity, and applying skin creams.

If itching does not clear up in about two weeks, the trouble may be due to any of a number of internal diseases, some of them serious. Thus, it is wise to see your physician if itching persists.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can be easily diagnosed and treated. The two most common types are basal cell and squamous cell .

The basal cell type begins with a small fleshy nodule , usually on the face. It may take several months to reach one-half to one inch in diameter. In about a year it begins to ulcerate and bleed. Then it forms a crust, which it sheds at intervals, leaving another ulcer. A physician can usually remove the ulcer by a local operation.

Smoking and exposure to the sun aid squamous cell cancer. Lesions or horny growths may appear on the lips, mouth, and genitalia, and they tend to spread and increase in size. Again, your physician can treat or operate effectively. See also Ch. 18, Cancer .


Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes loss of pigment in skin. No cure exists for vitiligo, which affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population, but treatments include drugs and exposure to ultraviolet A radiation. The condition, itself, is not physically painful, but it is emotionally damaging.

Senile Purpura

Sometimes the skin develops senile purpura as one grows older. The characteristic hemorrhages of this condition usually appear on the extremities, and the purple color gradually fades and leaves mottled areas of yellow-brown. Generally, the skin is thin, fragile, and transparent in appearance.

Stasis Dermatitis

Sometimes in association with such conditions as varicose veins, the skin may develop stasis dermatitis , an acute, chronic condition of the leg, associated with swelling, scaling of the skin, and in some cases, ulcer formation. It may exist for years with or without ulceration.

If any of the above conditions develop, it is wise to consult your physician rather than try to treat yourself.

Other Skin Conditions

Other skin conditions that may develop in the later years may include an increase in coarse hairs on exposed places such as the upper lip or chin. The downy hairs in the ears and nose become thicker and more apparent, and the eyebrows may become bushy. Graying hair is popularly associated with aging, but its onset often depends upon genetic factors and varies so much that it cannot be used as a reliable measure of age.

The earlobes may elongate as you grow older and the nails may become coarse and thickened or thinner and brittle.

Relieving Skin Conditions

As mentioned earlier, you can use some creams to relieve dryness and scaliness in older skin. The best of such creams are the water-in-oil emulsions (cold creams) such as Petrolatum Rose Water Ointment USP XVI, or oil-in-water emulsions such as Hydrophilic Ointment USP XVI. Wrinkle creams will not help much, but some conditions may be masked by regular cosmetic items such as powder, rouge, mascara, hair dyes, etc.

Sunscreens may aid in preventing acute and chronic overexposure to the sun's rays.

Various types of surgery may be performed to correct older skin conditions, but they won't work for everyone. Among some of the more common types of surgery are plastic surgery, dermabrasion (skin planning), chemosurgery (chemical cautery), cryosurgery (freezing of the skin), and electrosurgery (employing electricity). See “Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery” in Ch. 20, Surgery .

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