Have You Got Skin in the Game?

We know that as we age there are lots of changes that occur in our bodies. It makes sense that the largest organ in our bodies, our skin, would be affected as we grow older. And it is about more than just wrinkles. With age, our skin thins out, loses fat, and does not look as “full” as it used to. As the skin thins out, it is easier to see bones and blood vessels underneath the surface. Injuries take longer to heal. Exposure to sun over a long period of time can lead to wrinkles, dryness, age spots, and even cancer.

The National Instutes of Health (NIH) offers great information about what happens to our skin and what we can do about it. For instance, dry and itchy skin can be treated with moisturizers; even a humidifier in the room can help. It also helps to take fewer baths/showers, using warm water instead of hot, and bathing with mild soaps.

Another condition is more frequent bruising that may take longer to fade. If bruises appear and you do not know how you got them–especially if they are in areas that are usually covered by clothes–consult a doctor to make sure it is nothing more serious.

There are many factors that cause skin to wrinkle: gravity, smoking, exposure to too much sun, etc. There are many products that claim to reduce the “appearance” of wrinkles, but most are not really effective. The only way to treat wrinkles requires a trip to a dermatologist who specializes in medical procedures and injections; these can be quite costly and may have only limited impact.

Age spots and skin tags are unsightly and show up more and more in the elderly. To prevent the appearance of more age spots, use appropriate sunblock and protective clothing. Skin tags are growths that rise above the surface of the skin; they are harmless, but if they are bothersome or in an area that causes concern of discomfort, they can be removed by a professional.

Finally, skin cancer is quite common as well. I blogged about this in 2020 and also last month. I am a skin cancer survivor several times over. Know the signs of skin cancer: Assymetry of a growth, Borders of the growth that are irregular, Color changes or more than one color, Diameter greater than that of a pencil eraser, and Evolving (meaning that the size, color, shape, or symptoms are changing). Check yourself regularly (once/month) and have regular checks with a dermatologist. Caught early, many skin cancers can be quickly and efficiently treated.

There will be changes in our skin as we age. Even so, we can still take care of this organ so that it will take care of us. Use sunscreen, avoid tanning, wear protective clothing (hats, coverups), and limit sun exposure. We only have one set of skin, so make sure it lasts! After all, we’ve all got skin in the game.

Use That Sunscreen

Today was my 5th Mohs procedure..and it was a doozy.

For those unfamiliar with Mohs, it is a surgery that removes layer by layer of skin in order to excise cancerous cells. First, you or your doctor may see something that looks unusual on the skin; s/he may decide it’s nothing or that it looks suspicious in which case it is removed and sent to a lab. The pathology can come back as benign (nothing dangerous) or cancerous. In my case, it was a basal cell carcinoma–the fifth one I’ve had. In order to make sure all the cancer has been completely removed, the dermatologist or a specialist will perform the Mohs procedure. One layer of skin is removed and if the edges are cancer-free, you’re done; you get a band-aid and you go home (well, it’s a little more complicated). Every other time I’ve had a Mohs, that is the way it went down. If, however, there are still cancerous cells on the periphery, the doctor will do another layer. This keeps going until the peripheries are clear. The average number of times a patient will have a layer removed is 1.8. Today, I set a personal record with 4! I was at the surgeon’s office for nearly 4 hours…and if you think the bandage looks bad, you should have seen what the wound looked like before it was closed!

The doctor and I had a conversation about why I was on my 5th procedure (my first being about 20 years ago and the last 2 years ago). I am fair- skinned and as a kid no one really paid attention to UV rays or sunscreen. It was a regular occurrence for me to get a sunburn; sometimes quite painful. Who knew that 40 years later this would be the result? Now I have to be especially careful.

What I did not know is that all that sun damage has actually altered the DNA of my affected skin cells. Some of them are OK and will never morph into anything else. Others, however, may be at the edge (99% and ready to go) of going cancerous. What will determine the next steps? It is entirely in my hands–literally. Sunscreen.

From here on out, I will be wearing it on my face (a special one designed for that purpose) every day. I will also wear an over-the-counter on my other exposed body parts. Windshields and car windows, as well as clouds, do not filter out the damaging radiation that can trigger these cells. Only a good sunscreen with a high enough SPF will work.

I am getting to be pretty high maintenance! Actually, this is a relatively easy step to add to my routine each morning…and later in the day if I am outside quite a bit.

I have been fortunate. So far, all have been basal cell carcinomas–easily treated. Next time, who knows?

My warning to you, my readers: the future of your skin is in your hands too. Sunscreen every day!