Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest organ? The American Academy of Dermatology has designated November as National Healthy Skin Month, so let’s talk skin. Your skin isn’t just the part of you that others see the most, it can be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for distress in other parts of the body. When you have an allergic reaction to the environment, bug bites, and even skin cancer, your skin shows it. But your skin can reflect deeper problems you may be having, too, like nerve damage, diabetes, an auto-immune disease and kidney/liver/thyroid problems. National Healthy Skin Month can give caregivers, home care aides and loved ones the chance to learn about the skin and the way it can reveal what’s going on inside the body.

The Skin Is the Largest Organ

The skin is the body’s largest organ, and one of the main ways we sense and interact with the world. And yet it’s probably the one we think about the least, when we’re thinking about organs and stuff. Most of us think about keeping it moisturized, sun blocked, and maybe unwrinkled, but we don’t always think about how it fits in with the rest of our organs. Not sure the skin deserves more attention? Think about these fun and creepy facts about skin:

  • The average adult has 8 lbs and 22 square feet of skin. For comparison, the average bathtub takes up 13 sq. ft. in your bathroom, and the average shower takes up 9 sq. ft.
  • Your skin accounts for about 15% of your total body weight
  • Your skin renews itself entirely every 28 days. How? Well,…
  • You shed 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every minute. That’s 9 lbs of skin a year.

Senior Skin Issues

Seniors can experience skin problems that come along with age. Wrinkles may be the age-related skin condition we notice the most, and the $325 billion dollars we spent on anti-aging treatments and products in 2017 demonstrate that. But there are other skin issues ranging from irritating to serious that seniors have to deal with:

  • Wrinkles: environmental factors and long-term exposure to UV light make the skin less elastic. On the plus side, you look wiser
  • Dry skin and itching: older people can develop dry patches on their lower arms and legs. Causes include dehydration, too much sun, dry air, smoking, stress, and losing your sweat and oil glands. Diabetes, kidney disease and some medications can also cause dry skin.
  • Age spots and skin tags: Whether you call them age spots or liver spots, they are not dangerous or malignant. Consistent use of sunblock will prevent them. Skin tags are 3D growths of skin that can grow on the eyelids, neck, and places with a lot of body friction like the armpit, chest, and groin. They’re also harmless but they can grow large enough to be irritating.
  • Bruises: older people can bruise more easily, and their bruises can take longer to heal. Yes, older skin is more prone to bruising, but some medications and illnesses can also aggravate this tendency.
  • Skin cancer: anyone of any age can develop skin cancer, but seniors have more exposure to the sun, which is the main cause of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are usually found on the skin most often exposed to the sun, like the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. They can happen anywhere on your body, but they tend to grow slowly and rarely spread. Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer, and while it is rarer than the other types, it can spread to other organs with fatal consequences.

Prescription For Good Skin Health

Skin health comes from both inside and outside the body. While ‘senior’ skin faces some special challenges, the prescription for good skin health applies to any age group.

  • Wear sunscreen
  • Drink lots of water
  • Don’t smoke!
  • Stay moisturized, and don’t forget your lips, they’re skin too!
  • Avoid or manage your stress – if you’re not ‘cool on the inside, it will show on the outside
  • Eat well! Your skin renews itself every 28 days, and Cheetos are not the building blocks you want your body to use!

Healthy skin is the sign of a healthy body, and itchy, inflamed, or infected skin is the sign that something is wrong on the inside. Monthly skin exams are a great way for everyone to keep an eye on the body’s largest organ. Caregivers, home care aides and loved ones who want to take the best care of themselves should know that the skin is the best place to start.