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Healthy Skin

Healthy Skin Tips for Seniors

If you are 50 or older, a yearly full-body skin cancer examination by a dermatologist could save your life. The risk of developing skin cancer appears to increase significantly around 50. With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for skin cancer averages 95 percent.

Learn more about skin cancer and other skin conditions.

  • Is it a mole or melanoma?– How to tell the difference between different marks on your skin and what to do if they look suspicious.
  • How to perform skin self-exams – Follow these steps to check your skin for signs of sun damage. Early detection is crucial to treating any kind of skin condition.
  • Dry, itchy skin and rashes – As we age, our skin becomes thinner and drier. Find out how to keep skin hydrated and effectively treat conditions like psoriasis and rosacea.

Is it a mole or melanoma?

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a mark on your skin is a mole, an age spot, or a sign of a more serious condition. Here are some ways to tell the difference and what to do if you spot something suspicious.


Moles are common. Almost every adult has a few. Adults with light skin may have anywhere between 10 to 40 moles. You should not be overly worried about your moles, but remember that few benign moles develop after 30 years of age.

A mole on your body has these traits:

  • One color – Often brown, but a mole can be tan, black, red, pink, blue, skin-toned or colorless
  • Round in shape
  • Flat or slightly raised
  • Looks the same from month to month

Your moles may not look alike. Even on the same person, moles can differ in size, shape or color. Moles can have hair. Some moles will change slowly over time, possibly even disappearing.

Moles can appear anywhere on the skin. They develop on the scalp, between the fingers and toes, on the soles and palms and even under the nails.


Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, can grow in or near a mole. If it’s caught early and treated, melanoma can be cured. The first sign of melanoma is often a change to a mole or a new mole on your skin. Checking your skin regularly can help you find melanoma early.

Melanoma is considered the most lethal form of skin cancer because it can rapidly spread to the lymph system and internal organs. If you see a mole or new spot on your skin that has any of the ABCDEs of melanoma, see a dermatologist immediately.

A – Asymmetry . One half is unlike the other half.

B – Border . An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.

C – Color . Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black; is sometimes red, white or blue.

D – Diameter . Melanomas are usually greater than the size of a pencil eraser when diagnosed, but some may be smaller.

E – Evolving . A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

Non-melanoma skin cancers

More than two million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, and that’s just in the United States . Besides melanoma, there are two other common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It most often appears on skin that gets a lot of sun, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands and arms. You will find BCCs on other parts of the body as well.

BCC often grows slowly. It may look like a:

  • Reddish patch of dry skin that won’t heal
  • Flesh-colored (or pink, red or brown) pearl-shaped lump
  • Scar that feels waxy — may be skin-colored, white or yellow

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a very common type of skin cancer. It often appears on skin that gets a lot of sun, such as an ear, face, bald scalp, neck or arm. But it can appear elsewhere. Too much sun is often the cause, but it is not the only one. SCC can appear on skin that was badly burned, had lots of radiation (such as x-rays) or was exposed to strong chemicals.

SCC often has a reddish color. Without treatment, it can grow deeply. If this happens, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. This can be deadly. SCC often looks like a:

  • Hard (scaly or crusty) reddish bump, patch or pearl-shaped growth
  • Open sore that itches and bleeds; it can heal and return
  • Scaly patch on the lip; skin on the lip can get thick

If it is caught early and properly treated, skin cancer can be cured. A dermatologist selects treatment after considering the type of skin cancer, where it appears on the body, whether it’s aggressive, the stage of the cancer and the patient’s health.

Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratoses (AKs) are dry, scaly, rough-textured patches or lesions that form on the outermost layer of the skin after years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as sunlight. These lesions typically range in color from skin-toned to reddish brown and in size from that of a pinhead to larger than a quarter. Occasionally, a lesion grows to resemble an animal horn and is called a “cutaneous horn.”

It is important that anyone with AKs be under a dermatologist’s care. AKs are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer and have the potential to progress to squamous cell carcinoma. Anyone who develops AKs has extensive sun-damaged skin. This makes one more susceptible to other forms of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Source: American Academy of Dermatology

How to perform skin self-exams

Early detection is key when it comes to skin cancer. You can help protect yourself with regular at-home body inspections. Here’s how:

  • Schedule regular inspections. Check all of your moles every six months, especially if you have a lot of them or have a personal or family history of skin cancer. See a dermatologist once a year for a routine full-body check.
  • Be familiar with your moles, including their location, size and color.
  • Look for new or changing moles. It’s normal to develop new moles into your early 20s, but not beyond. Pay attention to any new growths or moles that have changed in size, color or shape.
  • Take photos. If you have many moles, keeping up with potential changes is difficult. One way to remedy that is to take photos during your 6-month inspections. Save and date them on a computer and review as needed. You may find a “scary” mole that has always been there or find out that it actually is new.
  • Beware of pink or black. Normal moles and other benign skin growths typically are varying shades of tan to brown. Melanomas may be black or less commonly pink, while other skin cancers tend to be pink and often are scaly. See your dermatologist if you notice a pink or black lesion.
  • Check “hidden” spots. Many people forget to check areas they can’t see easily. Be sure to check the soles of your feet and genital area. Ask a partner or friend to look over your back. Get a hairdresser to inspect your scalp. Skin cancers can appear even in areas where the sun doesn’t shine.

Dry, itchy skin and rashes

Many older people suffer from dry skin, often on their lower legs, elbows and lower arms. The skin becomes dry when it loses too much water or oil. Anyone can get dry skin, but as we age, our skin becomes thinner and drier.

Because older people have thinner skin, scratching dry patches can cause bleeding that can lead to infection. Some medicines make the skin itchier. The itching can be bad enough to cause sleep problems.

By our 40s, many people need to use a good moisturizer every day. Lotions, creams, or ointments can soothe dry, itchy skin. They should be used every day. Try taking fewer baths and using milder soap to help your dry skin. Warm water is better than hot water for your skin. Some people find that a humidifier helps. If your skin is very dry and itchy, see your doctor.


Rashes are generally caused by skin irritation, which can have many causes. A rash is generally a minor problem that may go away with home treatment. In some cases a rash does not go away or the skin may become so irritated that medical care is needed.

In adults, rashes are often caused by contact with a substance that irritates the skin. The rash usually starts within 48 hours after contact. You may experience mild redness of the skin or a rash of small red bumps. A more severe reaction may cause swelling, redness and larger blisters.

Common causes include poisonous plants; soaps, detergents, shampoos or cosmetics; jewelry or fabrics; new tools, appliances or other objects; and latex.


Psoriasisis a long-lasting disease that develops when a person’s immune system sends faulty signals that tell skin cells to grow too quickly. New skin cells form in days rather than weeks. The body doesn’t shed these excess skin cells. The skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin, causing patches of psoriasis to appear. It is not contagious.

Psoriasis can begin at any age. By age 40, most people who will get psoriasis, about 75%, have psoriasis. Another common time for psoriasis to begin is between 50 and 60 years of age.
What you see and feel depends on the type of psoriasis you have:

  • Plaque: Causes thick patches of skin that are covered with silvery-white scale.
  • Guttate: Causes small spots that can show up all over the skin.
  • Pustular: Causes pus-filled bumps that usually appear on the foot or hand.
  • Inverse: Develops in areas where skin touches skin, such as the armpit.
  • Erythrodermic: Can cause the skin to look like it is badly burned.

Treatment can reduce signs and symptoms of psoriasis. Some people see their skin completely clear.

Thanks to ongoing research, there are many treatments for psoriasis. It is important to work with a dermatologist to find a treatment that works for you and fits your lifestyle. Every treatment has benefits, drawbacks, and possible side effects.

  • Topical (applied to the skin) – Mild to moderate psoriasis. Some effective products include Cutar Emulsion and Tarsum shampoo.
  • Phototherapy (light, usually ultraviolet, applied to the skin) – Moderate to severe psoriasis
  • Systemic (taken orally or by injection or infusion) – Moderate, severe or disabling psoriasis

Discussing your treatment options with a dermatologist will help determine which is right for you.


Rosaceais a common skin disease that often begins with a tendency to blush or flush more easily than other people. The redness can slowly spread beyond the nose and cheeks to the forehead and chin. Even the ears, chest and back can be red all the time.

Rosacea can cause more than redness. There are so many signs and symptoms that rosacea has four subtypes:

  • Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea:Redness, flushing, visible blood vessels
  • Papulopustular rosacea:Redness, swelling and acne-like breakouts
  • Phymatous rosacea:Skin thickens and has a bumpy texture
  • Ocular rosacea: Eyes red and irritated, eyelids can be swollen and person may have what looks like a stye  

While there is no cure for rosacea, treatment can help relieve symptoms. Studies show that when people have fewer signs and symptoms of rosacea, their quality of life improves.

Treatment for the skin includes:

  • Medicine that is applied to the rosacea
  • Sunscreen (Wearing it every day can help prevent flare-ups.)
  • An emollient to help repair the skin
  • Lasers and other light treatments
  • Antibiotics (applied to the skin and pills)

Dermatologists can remove the thickening skin that appears on the nose and other parts of the face with:

  • Lasers
  • Dermabrasion (procedure that removes skin)
  • Electrocautery (procedure that sends electric current into the skin to treat it)

When rosacea affects the eyes, a dermatologist may give you instructions for washing the eyelids several times a day and a prescription for eye medicine. 

Source: American Academy of Dermatology

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