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Skin Care for Seniors (Part 1 of 3)

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

I believe it is safe to say that we all grew up with frequent sun exposure and the occasional painful sunburn. That was normal and expected in the 1950’s and 60’s. In the summer my skin got darker and my bottom whiter; wasn’t it supposed to be that way? I wasn’t tanning intentionally; I was playing outside and skin care wasn’t something I thought about. Now, however, I think about it every day and don’t like what I see.

By the mid-1960’s and quite vain, I tried to make myself look better by intentionally cultivating a tan―big mistake! Still, I can’t recall ever using tanning lotion such as Coppertone even though billboards repeated told us, ‘Don’t be a paleface’ and ‘Coppertone gives you a better tan.’ And who can forget that little girl and the dog tugging on her bathing suit and telling us “Tan, don't burn.” Cute then, but would be inappropriate today.

Here’s a few facts about Coppertone. It was invented in 1944 and the original logo was the profile of an Indian chief with the slogan, "Don't Be A Paleface." American Indians took offense, so the little girl and dog was introduced in 1953.

According to › Risk Factors

“While often associated with good health, the “glow” of a tan is the very opposite of healthy; it's evidence of DNA injury to your skin. Tanning damages your skin cells and speeds up visible signs of aging. Worst of all, tanning can lead to skin cancer. It's a fact: There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan.

Many went the baby oil and iodine route for a deeper tan. It was also cooler and showed your independent nature. by Shannon Postrion, July 20, 2015, says “People choose to tan with baby oil because it does have its perks. The oil acts as a reflector, which directly attracts the sunlight while intensifying the sun's UVA and UVB rays. The baby oil allows the rays to penetrate deeper parts of the skin, which quickly creates a darker skin tone.

“While using baby oil may sound like the best way to create that long-lasting tan, it definitely isn’t healthy…Since the use of baby oil speeds up the process of tanning and sunburn…skin cells can be damaged faster….”

Elizabeth Renda, May 22, 2016, provides interesting observations at:

“Popular descriptions of modern summer skin usually include terms such as “golden” or “sun-kissed.” But those phrases would most likely make your great-grandmother shudder. Former generations wouldn’t dare venture outside without being covered head to toe, with a wide-brimmed hat to top it all off.

“The way we look at summer skin care has evolved greatly,” says Erika Summers, MD, a University of Utah dermatologist. “Earlier generations were outside a great deal. This increased exposure often resulted in significant, painful, and occasionally disfiguring sunburns that left them highly motivated to stay shielded from the sun.

“At the turn of the 20th century, porcelain skin was seen as a sign of wealth and stature. However, once the wealthy started taking yacht trips and coming back from the Hamptons with a glow, tanned skin became the new beauty standard.

“[Coppertone] claimed [it] let in only the UV rays that promoted tanning and kept out the ones that burned you, which we now know is inaccurate,” Summers says. “Simply put, all freckling and tanned skin is damaged skin.

“In the 1960s, the first instance of SPF (sun protection factor) appeared. However, the amount added to suntan lotions was incredibly low—around 2-4 SPF. Between the 1970s and 1980s, tanning oils increased in popularity. Meanwhile, researchers were making progress in figuring out the effects of UV rays and creating specialty sunscreens featuring sweat and water protection.

“Despite innovations in sunscreens during this time, most media advertised that the best way to take care of your skin during the summer was with sunbathing using their product. [Can’t believe everything we read.]

“Tanning products claimed that sun would make your skin look younger and fresher, which we now know is false,” Summers says. “Most of my patients who applied iodine or baby oil to tan have more skin cancers, wrinkles and sunspots than my patients who did not. The people who practiced good sun protection back then actually have the more youthful skin now.

“During the 1990s, UVA blockers were added to sunscreens. And spray and gel sunscreens became more common. SPF also started to be featured in everyday products and levels of protection in sunscreen increased. By 2009, only 6 percent of sunscreens had SPF levels below five.

“These days, the FDA regulates sunscreen labels to make them as easy to understand as possible for consumers. Products no longer can be called “sunblock” or “waterproof” and must clearly state SPF levels….”

“Staying covered up while out in the sun still is the most important way to prevent skin cancer,” dermatologists say. In the early 1900s, men exposed 23 percent of their skin while swimming; women uncovered just 18 percent to the sun. But by the 1960s, women’s skin exposure rose to 80 percent with the introduction of the bikini. By the end of the 20th century, up to 92 percent of a woman’s body was exposed to the sun in a bathing suit.

“At the same time, melanoma rates have swelled, climbing almost 2 percent each year since 2000. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most Americans still don’t use sunscreen regularly, with only 14 percent of men and 30 percent of women reporting regularly using sunscreen on both their face and other exposed skin.”

I think there’s a cautionary tale in the above saga. Smoking and tanning were promoted by advertisers, the beautiful people of Hollywood, influencers, and even the medical community, and they were all wrong―really wrong. Similarly, Thalidomide pills and Swine flu vaccines were promoted by pharmaceutical companies and the medical community as safe, but weren’t. Here’s a quick look at the Thalidomide disaster.

“Thalidomide was introduced in 1956 and was aggressively marketed by the German pharmaceutical company… in 46 countries [for] women who were pregnant or who subsequently became pregnant, [resulting] in the "biggest man‐made medical disaster ever." …More than 10,000 children [were] born with a range of severe deformities, [and there were] thousands of miscarriages.…In 1961, the medication was removed from the market in Europe.

“The drug was [never] approved in the United States, but as many as 20,000 Americans were given thalidomide in the 1950s and 1960s as part of two clinical trials operated by American drug makers.

“On Aug. 1, 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a warning: “Every woman in this country, I think, must be aware that it’s most important that they check their medicine cabinet and that they do not take this drug.”

So what are we accepting today as established truth concerning products or medications that will later be discredited and meanwhile do enormous damage?

This picture is not my skin, but it’s not far off. All my youthful sun exposure and aging explain my brown spotted, crepe, parchment-like skin. Long gone is the tanned, flexible, elastic, spot-free skin of my youth. That skin is gone for good and not coming back. So what can seniors do to help their skin look better?

Here’s the best way to start looking better: “No matter how many years of sun damage your skin has suffered, it's not too late to start reversing the damage. Apply your sunscreen, grab your hat, and head off to your dermatologist to talk about a treatment plan that will take your skin back to its younger, healthier days.”

I see my dermatologist every six-months and about fifty percent of the time, she cuts, freezes, or scrapes something off my skin. It’s amazing how skin can change in just six-months.

Webmd at Declares, “Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although skin can sometimes repair itself…How your skin ages will depend on a variety of factors: your lifestyle, diet, heredity, and other personal habits….Factors contributing to wrinkled, spotted skin include normal aging….”

“You can delay changes associated with aging by staying out of the sun and making a habit of using sunscreen with zinc oxide as a physical blocker and an SPF of 30 or more…wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, broad-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.”

In the next blog, Part 2 of 3 on skin care, I’ll explore medical procedures and supplements that claim to improve the health and appearance of your skin. Should be very interesting and informative. In Part 3, we’ll dive into lotions, ointments, and creams with a focus on retinoids. I’m learning many things about skin care and am putting some of the lessons learned into practice with good results.


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