Caring for the largest organ

The largest organ

It’s pretty common knowledge that a person’s skin is their largest organ. As a person ages, specific factors affect the health of a loved one’s skin, and specific products are available to keep it as healthy as possible.

The main factors that affect a person’s skin condition over their lifetime include: diet, hydration, smoking, hereditary, lifestyle and more than the rest, sun exposure. When skin ages, a loss of fatty tissues between the skin and muscle occurs, and stress and gravity cause sagging. Skin also becomes rough and dry, and can look transparent or thin. It also bruises more easily and the elasticity decreases. Two main concerns for the elderly population are bed sores and age spots.

A caregiver is the front line for keeping a watchful eye on the condition of a loved one’s skin. They should report any visible changes to the person’s physician. Moles which have changed color, shape or size should be looked at, as should dry, itchy skin which isn’t relieved with moisturizers. New skin growths and recurring irritations are other issues to monitor.

An ounce of prevention

Once a person’s skin has reached the point of needing intervention, it can take time to reverse the damage. This is why the main line of defense for any caregiver is prevention.

Lips and skin should be moisturized regularly and protected from prolonged sun exposure. Encourage a loved one to wear hats and sunscreen, even long-sleeved clothing if possible. A lip balm with sunscreen will prevent drying and cracking.
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Many times a person with incontinence will require frequent bathing. While necessary, this practice is also hard on a senior’s fragile skin. A caregiver can use gentle-based cleansers, and keep baths or showers short, avoiding hot water, which removes the skin’s natural oils. Moisturizer should be applied right after, while the skin is still moist. Moisturizers without fragrances and dyes are recommended, as are ones with colloidal oatmeal, which will lock in moisture and form a protective barrier.

Petroleum-based skin/lip products (such as Vaseline) should not be applied if a loved one uses oxygen. Water-based gels are fine with oxygen, and can be applied frequently since they dry quickly. One recommendation for moisturizer is coconut oil, as it absorbs quickly, is all-natural and doesn’t leave an oily feeling.

Eye on environment

Caregivers can follow some simple recommendations to keep a loved one’s everyday environment ideal for skin preservation. Each season also brings unique challenges, as winter brings drier air and summer humidity. Professionals recommend the room temperature be maintained between 68 F and 75 F. A humidifier will help maintain moisture levels at 40 to 50 percent.

Even clothing can be a cause for skin irritation, so fragrance-free and dye-free detergents and softeners are recommended.

Skin care also continues to be a reflection of a person’s habits, so drinking enough water, getting enough sleep and wearing sunscreen is important for everyone.  The largest organ will definitely require special care as the person ages, and a caregiver has options to help them along the way.

Caregiver magazine

Today’s Caregiver magazine (, launched in 1995, is the first national magazine for all family and professional caregivers. Each issue includes articles on vital caregiving issues and caregiving resources. Cover interviews include Debbie Reynolds, Dixie Carter, Valerie Harper, Della Reese and Clay Aiken, among many others. ©, Inc.