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Health Center Today, August 26, 2009

Aging Skin Ė Did You Know?

By Carolyn Pennington

Photo of a man sitting on the beachDid you know that your skin is the largest organ of your body?
It is, in terms of both weight, between 6 and 9 pounds, and surface area, about 2 square yards. Your skin protects you from bacteria and viruses, helps you sense the outside world and regulates your body temperature. Thatís why it is so important to know how to protect it and keep it healthy as you age.

Did you know that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer on the left side of their face than on the right?
Dr. Lisa Kugelman, dermatologist, says doctors attribute this to driving and that the left side of our face is next to the window. Kugelman explained during a recent lecture, part of the Health Centerís Geriatrics Medicine Summer Conference Series, that ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can pass through glass and penetrate deeper into the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin. UVA rays can also cause suppression of the immune system, which interferes with the immune system's ability to protect you against the development and spread of skin cancer. UVA exposure also is known to lead to signs of premature aging of the skin such as wrinkling and age spots. The UVB rays are the sun's burning rays (which are blocked by window glass) and are the primary cause of sunburn. A good way to remember it is that UVA rays are the aging rays and UVB rays are the burning rays. Excessive exposure to both forms of UV rays can lead to the development of skin cancer.

Do you know why older adults tend to have drier lower legs and feet?
The theory is that they may not rinse off in the shower as thoroughly and soap accumulates around the lower legs and feet. The soap residue has a drying effect on the skin and ultimately, that can lead to serious problems. "Intact, healthy skin is your body's primary defense against infection," says Kugelman. "If you let your skin get dried out and cracked, you could be giving all sorts of nasty bacteria a way in." So itís important to use a moisturizer but you need to put it on when your skin is still damp. Itís also important to get the right type of moisturizer. Often, the cheaper stuff you can get at the drugstore is just as good or even better than the high-end products, Kugelman says.

Did you know that indoor tanning is not just a teen trend?
A recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and published in Lancet Oncololgy found that nearly 10 percent of 50-64 years old had done indoor tanning in the previous year and nearly 8 percent of those over 65 years of age had. Overall, the indoor tanning industry serves 28 million people; generates $5 billion a year; and is represented by 30,000 tanning facilities across the country, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. "Many patients consider indoor tanning to be a safer alternative to sun tanning," Kugelman explains. "But it is just the opposite, tanning beds emit up to twice as much skin damaging radiation." Overexposure to UVA rays can cause eye injury, premature wrinkling and aging of the skin, light-induced skin rashes and increased chances of developing skin cancer.

Did you know melanomas on the head and neck are typically the most deadly?
And that the larger the lesion - over 6 millimeters - the more likely it will be a melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. More than 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths are from melanoma and the incidence continues to rise. One American dies from melanoma almost every hour. Melanomas might appear on the skin suddenly without warning, but they also can develop on an existing mole. If you notice a mole that is different from others, or that changes, itches, or bleeds even if it is smaller than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser), you should see a dermatologist as soon as possible.