Skin Smarts

On your list of health priorities, skin care likely isn’t one of the top three. Who has time to worry about dry skin when your blood pressure and cholesterol are high, and the number of hours you sleep is dropping?

But taking care of your skin is important, particularly as you get older. Your skin produces less protective oil as you age, which increases the risk for dry, itchy skin that cracks and tears easily. In addition to being painful, dry skin is vulnerable to infections. Cracked, torn skin is vulnerable to viruses that cause warts and other illnesses.

Skin care is particularly important for people with a medical condition such as diabetes. For these individuals, poor skin care can quickly lead to severe problems. Because people with diabetes have decreased skin sensitivity, they can easily injure their feet or hands. Even minor injuries such as a slight sunburn can trigger major infections that could require amputation. Other common diabetes skin concerns include styes on the eyelids, and boils, which are infections of the hair follicles.

Serious Skin Care
Whether or not you have health concerns like diabetes, maintaining healthy skin is simple, and the following basic precautions are good ideas for anyone:

Stay cool. Hot baths and showers dry the skin, so bathe in lukewarm, not hot, water.

Soak, don’t shower. That’s right, baths are better for your skin than showers. When you shower, the force of water removes your skin’s protective oils more quickly than when you bathe. Limiting showers is difficult on the road, so just watch the water temperature.

Get in, get out. Although there is debate over how long is too long to bathe or shower, the best advice is to get in, get clean and get out.

Save the suds. While bathing with plain water is ideal, it’s not realistic for many people. Many heavy deodorant soaps are extremely drying to the skin, so look for skin-friendly soaps such as Dove, Purpose, or Lever 2000. Suds up only on areas such as the hands, feet, armpits and groin.

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Love lotion. Lotion works best when you slather it in right out of the bath or shower. Wind and both hot and cold weather harm the skin, so keep a bottle or tube of cream nearby and put it on regularly. If you have diabetes, using a moisturizing lotion is particularly important. Rub lotion into the tops and bottoms of feet, but never between the toes. That area is especially vulnerable to fungal infections.
Skin-care Caution
If you have diabetes, take extra care with your feet. Never go barefoot, particularly outside, or even at the beach. Wear soft but sturdy, well-fitting shoes. Inspect your feet daily for blisters, cuts and cracks, all of which can lead to an infection. A hand-held mirror is an ideal tool to see areas out of your reach. Watch for sunburns on the tops of your feet, which also can trigger an infection.

Sun Smarts
While most people associate skin cancer with sunbathers, it’s also common for people who work as long-distance drivers, letter carriers or delivery personnel. That’s because the risk for skin cancer increases as the sun beats down through the cab window on exposed arms throughout the day.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in this country, and it accounts for almost half of all cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society. Some traits put people at greater risk for developing skin cancer, such as having fair skin that burns easily. Those individuals are at 20 times greater risk for skin cancer, according to the ACS. In addition, men develop skin cancer more often, as do people who are exposed to chemicals such as industrial tar.

While there are some risk factors you can’t control, such as your skin tone, you can take precautions to decrease your skin cancer risk. Use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15. The ACS recommends using about a palmful of sunscreen and reapplying it every two hours, or more frequently if you sweat considerably. Remember that sunscreens have a shelf life of about two years, so replace old lotions.

While you’re driving, slather on the sunscreen, even on hazy or overcast days. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and shirt with sleeves if you’re in the sun while loading or unloading a delivery. And while you’re driving, wear a long-sleeved shirt or even cover your arm with a towel for protection.

In addition, inspect your skin regularly. The ACS recommends checking spots on the skin or moles that change in size, shape or color. Notice if the spot or mole bleeds or scales.