Smart Skincare

Ever wonder how your neighbor keeps her skin looking as though it never ages? Chances are she has been taking good care of it, which includes protecting it from the sun.

Prevent Skin Cancer
Research shows that roughly 90 percent of skin aging is caused by sun exposure, which also leads to skin damage and skin cancer. The good news is that protecting your skin with sunscreen can reduce the risk for cancer significantly, and can also slow aging. A 2013 study in the American College of Physicians’ Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who applied SPF 15 (or higher) sunscreen daily — and reapplied it every few hours or after heavy sweating or swimming — exhibited 24-percent-less skin aging than those who used it only sporadically.

The chance of developing melanoma, which is responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths, doubles if you have had five or more sunburns in your lifetime but drops 50 percent if you use an SPF 15 sunscreen on a regular basis.

Other skin problems increase with age. Most people will develop freckles and moles or other skin marks that may multiply or darken over time. While these are not cancerous, between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will either have basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, or squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common skin cancer, at least once.

Squamous cell carcinomas, caused by cumulative UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds, look like scaly red patches, open sores or warts. They can crust or bleed and may become disfiguring or deadly if allowed to grow. Basal cell carcinomas, which are rarely fatal and generally don’t spread, look like open sores, red patches or shiny bumps and scars. They are caused by cumulative and intense (but occasional) sun exposure.

Regular skin checks by a dermatologist can detect carcinomas early. Check your skin regularly and report changes immediately. The five-year survival rate for melanoma is 98 percent if caught early, but drops to 63 percent if the disease reaches the lymph nodes and just 17 percent if it gets to the internal organs.

Protect Against Shingles

Your risk for developing shingles — a painful, blistering skin rash — also grows as you get older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all shingles cases occur in people 60 years or older.

Shingles are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, which stays dormant in the body for years after you have been infected.

There is a vaccine, however, and it is recommended for anyone over the age of 60 — even if you have had shingles — to prevent further occurrences.

If you think you have shingles, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. Treatment may include antiviral medications, pain relievers, compresses and calamine lotion.

Treat Itchy Skin
Itchy skin can be a side effect of some medications or can be caused by eczema, bedbugs, hives or poison ivy, oak and sumac. To soothe itchy skin, take warm (not hot) baths, moisturize your skin daily, pat your skin dry with a towel (don’t rub), use a humidifier in dry or cold weather and wear cotton or soft fabrics that won’t irritate your skin. Your pharmacist may also recommend a moisturizer or an anti-itch cream, or tell you when to see your provider for prescription-strength treatment.