It’s often our skin that gives away our age. As we get older, not only do we get wrinkles, but our skin actually thins and can look paler, even appear see-through in some spots. It becomes less elastic and more fragile, subject to tears and bruising. Some of the chronic diseases that can affect us as we age, such as diabetes and heart disease, also affect our skin. But skin changes aside, new research has found that skin diseases affect more older people than not. In fact, more than three-quarters of people 70 years or older have at least one skin disease and 39% of those have three or more.

What the Study Found

Dermatologists in Finland performed whole-body skin examinations on 552 adults aged 70 to 93 years old, looking for signs of skin disease. There are several, but the researchers found that 75.7% of the study participants had at least one of the following:

  • Tinea pedis – athlete’s foot (48.6% of participants)
  • Onychomycosis – fungal infection of the nail (29.9%)
  • Rosacea – redness, pimples and swelling on the face (25.6%)
  • Actinic keratosis – scaly patches on the skin (22.3%)
  • Asteatotic eczema – dermatitis caused by very dry skin (20.8%)

Forty-two participants were diagnosed with skin cancers, ranging from basal cell to malignant melanoma.

Treating skin conditions is important to help people maintain a good quality of life. Eczema, for example, can cause severe itching, which can result in cuts that can become infected. Athlete’s foot and fungal infections of the nail are contagious, which can be a particular problem with people who live in long-term care or communal facilities. Even rosacea and scaly patches, which seem harmless, can affect how someone sees themselves, especially if it progresses. Rosacea can also affect the eyes, so catching it early may prevent vision loss. And, of course, it is important to treat skin cancer in the early stages, before it progresses.

The researchers also noticed a difference between which skin diseases affect men and women separately. More men had seborrheic dermatitis, plaques that form mostly on the head and trunk; nummular eczema, plaques that form in circles; athlete’s foot; fungal nail infections; folliculitis, inflamed hair follicles; and actinic keratosis. Women were more often affected by asteatotic eczema; cherry angiomas, red “moles” or skin growths; and lentigo senilis, brown patches.

Perhaps the most important issue, however, is skin cancer. Skin cancer can appear decades after skin was damaged by sunlight or ultraviolet rays from tanning beds. Finding it early help increase the chances of successful treatment.

Studies like this are important because older people may be living with skin conditions that are treatable, but they might not be readily obvious, only found by a thorough, full-body skin examination. Treating the conditions may give them one less thing that adds to their discomfort. And if the skin disease cannot be cured, treatment may make the symptoms more bearable, improving their quality of life.