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Protecting Skin from the "50-Year Itch".

Of all "mature" skin concerns, wrinkles may be the first thing that comes to mind, yet there are many more aspects of aging skin that should be considered. "From age spots and skin cancer to incessant itching and dryness, my patients express concern about different skin conditions as they age," indicates Laurie Polis, dermatologist director at New York City's Soho Integrative Health Center and Mezzanine Spa, and mature skin advisor to the Lanacane Itch Information Center.

"Besides something serious like cancerous lesions or embarrassment over unsightly age spots and skin tags, one of the top concerns is itchy skin. It's almost as if when someone turns 50, their skin is likely to become much itchier, which is why I call it the '50-Year-Itch.'" Polis blames this on the change in oil production in the skin, hormonal imbalances, and the thinning of the epidermis, which can trigger itching and burning that can be quite uncomfortable, even damaging to thinning skin if persistent scratching results. Her patients are always looking for ways to control the itching, which can get so bad at times it causes loss of sleep and discomfort when wearing certain clothes. "Most people don't realize that their itchy skin is connected to their aging," she points out.

As skin ages, it appears to be more sensitive to fabric, preservatives, wool, plastics, detergents, bleaches, soaps, and other irritants. The weather can also be a contributing factor to itchy skin. "It is important to be able to identify and eliminate what is causing your skin to itch because it can turn into the itch/scratch/itch cycle, leading to the possibility of infection caused by scratching. Plus, continually scratching at the skin only serves to cause more inflammation." After determining the cause of the itch, use a topical medication to stop it quickly, she suggests. If the itch is nonresponsive to moisturizing or anti-itch medications, it is important to consult with a physician, since some internal disorders are linked to persistent itching.

The following are some additional mature skin concerns that go beyond wrinkles, as well as Polis' advice on how to help "stop the clock" so skin stays more youthful as we age:

Bruising. As the skin becomes thinner and blood vessel walls become less sturdy due to losing collagen and elastin, there may be more frequent bruising, particularly on the legs and arms. "Bruising can also be caused by medications that interfere with clotting or from certain diseases," Polis notes. It is important to pay attention to bruising, particularly if it is recurrent.

Varicose veins are enlarged leg veins that appear blue and bulging. They occur as a result of blood flowing against gravity--instead of flowing toward the heart, it flows back into the veins through a faulty valve. "To avoid aching in the legs, do not stand or sit for long periods of time. Switch back and forth regularly, keep feet elevated, and wear support hose." In severe cases, varicose veins can be treated with surgery or radio frequency, though they tend to reoccur within five years.

Wrinkles. While this is one of the biggest skin concerns of the 50-plus group--particularly for women--it is the least problematic mature skin issue, as far as health is concerned. "Wrinkles are strictly an issue of appearance, with effects that are more psychological than physical. While wrinkles present no physical health risk, their presence can affect the way a person views herself--or himself--so if there are ways to reduce their appearance painlessly, then one should do so." Polis suggests utilizing topical products that may assist in collagen production, such as ascorbic, glycolic, and retinoic acids. "It's best to consult with your dermatologist to get advice on the ones which are best for your particular type of skin. Of course, sunscreen is the number-one most important thing you can do to be proactive against further wrinkling and sun damage."

Skin lesions. Growths or pigment spots become more common as we age. "These can range from simple skin tags, warts, age or 'liver' spots to skin cancers that require immediate treatment." Most keratoses (precancerous lesions) and many skin cancers are caused by years of sun exposure, making the application of sunscreen mandatory at every age. These growths can occur at any age.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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