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Aging gracefully: insights from a dermatology surgeon

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Want to look vibrant, healthy and youthful at any age? If so, taking proactive steps to protect your skin will go a long way! 

Here are some essential steps to maintaining healthy skin as you reach middle age and beyond. 

SIU Medicine’s Mohs micrographic surgeon, Dr. Rebecca Larson, a specialist in treating skin cancer and promoting healthy skin care, recommends them. 

1. Moisturize daily 

As the largest organ in the body, your skin is susceptible to age-related changes, including increased dryness and decreased elasticity. To combat these normal changes, use a gentle cleanser, pat your skin dry and then use a high quality, non-pore clogging moisturizer.

Daily moisturizing helps your skin retain as much moisture as possible, which can minimize fine lines and wrinkles and give your skin a fuller, smoother appearance. 

2. Use sunscreen daily

In addition to applying daily moisturizer, it's also important to start or maintain your habit of daily photo protection. 

Sunscreen protects your skin from the damaging effects of excess ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which is known to cause wrinkles, fine lines, sunspots and skin cancer. Choose a chemical or mineral sunscreen that offers at least SPF 50, and reapply to exposed skin as needed throughout the day. Sun-protective clothing and seeking shade when appropriate are also effective ways to protect your skin.

3. Schedule annual visits with your dermatologist

There's no shortage of wrinkle creams, eye serums and other anti-aging products and procedures that can help people with aging concerns to improve the health and appearance of their skin. But not all products are created equal, and figuring out which ones are worth the investment for your skin can be a hefty task. 

If you don't already, start scheduling yearly visits with a dermatologist. A dermatologist can help you understand your specific skin care needs—whether that's to reduce fine lines, control inflammation or enhance collagen production—and make personalized recommendations about the products you could benefit from, such as vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and retinol.

In addition to helping you know which types of anti-aging skin care products to use, your yearly visit with a dermatologist is also an opportunity for skin cancer screening and detection. 

4. Know the signs of skin cancer

Generally speaking, your risk for skin cancer increases as you get older. Don't hesitate to talk to a doctor about sudden or concerning changes in your skin. Getting diagnosed earlier can drastically improve your outcomes!

Be aware of the warning signs of skin cancer. They are easy to remember using the acronym ABCDE. Each letter describes qualities of moles, lesions or other spots on the skin that can indicate cancer. 

  1. Asymmetrical: irregular or uneven shape
  2. Border: irregular or jagged border
  3. Color: uneven, unusual or changing color (including brown, black, red, white and blue)
  4. Diameter: larger than the size of a pea or pencil eraser (about a quarter inch)
  5. Evolving: changes in size, shape, quality or feeling (e.g., itchy, sore, oozing, etc.) over the past few weeks to months

Remember that other cancers may present with skin issues, too—for example, breast cancer can cause red or flaky skin on the nipple or breast area. If you aren't already in the habit of checking your skin routinely, it's not too late to start. 

5. Watch your alcohol intake

Excess alcohol consumption can lead to short-term and long-term skin health problems, including redness, dark circles, puffiness, wrinkles and even an increased risk of skin infections and skin cancer. Excess alcohol use can also lead to or worsen other age-related health problems, including heart disease, liver disease and obesity. 

If you choose to drink, do so in moderation—that means up to one standard drink per day if you're a woman, and up to two drinks per day if you're a man. And be sure to watch that pour: many wine glasses can hold much more than one true serving of wine (5 fluid ounces).

6. Find a cosmetic provider you can trust

If you are interested in Botox, fillers, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), breast augmentation or any other type of cosmetic procedure, it's important to connect with an experienced provider who can help you achieve your aesthetic goals while also supporting your overall health. When interviewing potential providers, be sure to ask about: 

  • Their years of experience and number of advanced qualifications and board-certifications
  • Whether their facility is accredited 
  • Their areas of expertise or specialty 
  • Examples of their work with other patients
  • The risks and benefits of the procedure

7. Stay on top of your other health conditions

Many age-related health conditions—as well as the medications and techniques used to treat them—can cause skin issues, such as rash, irritation and dryness. This includes diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, menopause and long-term use of corticosteroids. Work closely with your health care team to make sure any underlying medical conditions are well managed. 

Looking for personalized aging and skin care support? 

It's never too late to develop new habits that will support healthy aging and help you feel better about the skin you're in. Contact SIU Medicine today to find a doctor who can help you age gracefully. 

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