No matter how much we fight it, aging changes the skin. We no longer produce copious amounts of natural oils to keep things smooth; and decades of sun damage, from those tans that looked so good when we were in our 20s and 30s, takes its toll as brown spots and wrinkles become more prominent.
And there’s more bad news: “The dermis (a deeper skin layer that contains nerve end-ings, blood vessels, oil and sweat glands, collagen, and elastin) also begins to thin as we age. This is why mature skin is more fragile. The underlying support structure is no longer as thick or as elastic. It therefore cannot withstand minor injuries as it did when we were younger,” says Dr. Jeffrey Petersen, a dermatologist on staff at SSM St. Clare Health Center. “To reduce injuries, wearing longer-sleeved clothing is appropriate. Also, if an injury occurs, clean it immediately and consider pushing the torn skin back into the wound and covering it so that it will heal quicker.”
There’s not a lot that can be done to restore aged skin, Petersen says. However, some therapies and treatments, such as topical vitamin C and fractionated laser procedures, can help improve collagen, the fibrous protein in connective tissue that helps skin maintain its plump youthfulness.
Sun damage can be treated with topical retinol, a vitamin A derivative. “The retinol will help to smooth out the dead layer of skin, lighten areas with abnormal coloration and may also improve the underlying problems in collagen,” Petersen says. Retinols are found in many over-the-counter products and makeup, and also are available through dermatologists and other skin-care providers.
Even if you have exposed your skin to the sun for years, sun protection—starting at any age—is important. “Continued sun exposure will increase the chance of getting more sun damage and more skin cancers,” says Dr. Vivian Huang with Mercy Clinic Dermatology. “It is recommended that everyone apply moisturizer with sunscreen of SPF 30 or more when they’re outside for routine activities. If they’re on vacation or are out in the sun for a long period of time, they should wear SPF 50 sunscreen. Wearing sun hats or sun protective clothing is also a good idea.”
A good skin-care routine for more mature skin includes a gentle cleanser followed by moisturizer and sunscreen. At night, Huang recommends using a retinol product on the face, an eye cream, and a thicker facial moisturizer or night cream.
“Due to dryer skin in older women, usually makeup needs to be a little thicker,” Huang adds. “Especially in winter, creamy foundation seems to work better; and liquid foundation tends to work better than powdered foundations. Some makeup contain sunscreen, but if it’s lower than SPF 30, it’s better to apply extra sunscreen.”
Beyond issues of vanity, seniors should visit a dermatologist at least annually to assess moles and look for other potential signs of developing skin cancers. Melanoma is a dangerous type of skin cancer known to metastasize to other organs, and should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible to avoid this possibly fatal outcome.