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Is dry, itchy skin a natural part of aging?

In most cases, aging brings drier, more sensitive skin. But using moisturizers, avoiding irritants and taking some preventive measures can help.

With older age comes change, including change that affects your skin. Both sweat and oil glands slow production as we grow older, leaving us all more prone to dry, itchy skin.

More than a nuisance, this can lead to increased risks of skin injury and infection. Persistent itching can interfere with sleep and ruin your mood all day. In some cases, itchy skin can even be a sign of internal disease—diabetes and kidney disease, for example, can both create this symptom.

The moral? Don't take dry skin sitting down. A few simple steps can help keep your skin healthy and comfortable. And if good skin care doesn't prevent flaking and itching, you should see a doctor to find out if the problem is more than skin deep.

Soothing relief

To prevent dry skin, try these suggestions from the National Institute on Aging and the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Use a humidifier at home.
  • Bathe with soap less often, or use mild or glycerine soaps or soap substitutes. Use warm water instead of hot water.
  • Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing. Those containing petrolatum or lanolin work well, although some people are allergic to lanolin. Other common ingredients include urea, alpha-hydroxy acids and lactic acid. Ask your doctor or dermatologist to recommend a moisturizer that will work well for you.

More help for healthy skin

Aging skin may become more sensitive to some fabrics and chemicals. Pay attention to how your skin reacts to the following products, and eliminate any that cause problems.

  • Wool.
  • Plastics.
  • Fabric preservatives.
  • Detergents.
  • Bleaches.
  • Soaps.

It's also a good idea to practice sun safety. It's too late to repair damage done earlier in life, but you can still prevent further harm to your skin.

  • Don't sunbathe or use tanning parlors.
  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • If you must be out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., cover up with a hat, long-sleeved shirt and sunglasses.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays), water-resistant sunscreen before you go outside. Make sure it has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

reviewed 9/30/2019

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