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6 Most Common Skin Conditions After You Turn 70

Study finds 3 in 4 adults 70 and older require treatment for at least one skin ailment

spinner image dermatologist examines woman's skin with a magnifying device
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If you have wrinkles, you don’t need to be told the skin — the body’s protective outer layer — is susceptible to the effects of aging. For older adults, however, intrinsic and extrinsic changes in the skin make it more prone to disease. In fact, a recent study found that 75.7 percent of adults 70 and older have at least one skin condition requiring treatment either at home (43 percent) or by a physician (57 percent). And 39.1 percent have at least three simultaneously.

Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS), the study categorized the prevalence and types of skin ailments among 552 adults, ages 70 to 93, from the general population in Finland. The researchers recommend a whole-body skin examination, as “it may reveal hidden cutaneous symptoms and it ensures timely diagnoses and appropriate treatment.”

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Because most study subjects were fair-skinned, the results may not accurately reflect what would be found in the more racially and ethnically diverse older-adult population in the United States. The study also noted differences in the prevalence of skin diseases between the sexes. The study included 346 women and 206 men. Men had higher proportions of fungal skin infections, and women had more benign tumors.

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The good news is that the six most common conditions affecting people 70 and older don’t necessarily need medical attention.

1. Seborrheic keratoses (78 percent)

spinner image Seborrheic keratosis a dark wart or mole like growth behind the ear.
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Seborrheic keratoses are noncancerous wart-like growths that often appear on the face, chest, shoulders or back. Typically, they are slightly elevated from the skin surface and appear as waxy brown, black or tan growths. No treatment is necessary, but if a seborrheic keratosis causes irritation, it can be removed by a doctor. Also, see your doctor if you notice suspicious changes in your skin, such as sores or growths that grow rapidly, bleed and don’t heal. These could be signs of skin cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.

2. Lentigo senilis (69 percent)

spinner image Lentigo Senilis or liver spots on the face of a woman
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Older adults, people with fair skin and people who have spent lots of time in the sun are most prone to lentigo senilis, more commonly known as liver spots. They appear as flat tan, brown or black spots, most often on the face, hands, shoulders and arms. It is important, however, for your doctor to distinguish between an age spot and other conditions such as lentigo maligna, a type of skin cancer. Liver spots are harmless and don’t need treatment. In some cases, prescription creams and procedures can remove them or make them less noticeable, according to the Mayo Clinic.


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3. Cherry angiomas (63 percent)

spinner image A senior man's back with moles, cysts, cherry angiomas and freckles. Plus a scar from the removal of a cyst .
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Cherry angiomas are noncancerous skin growths made up of blood vessels that give them a reddish appearance. Also known as senile angiomas or Campbell de Morgan spots, they are fairly common skin growths that vary in size from a pinhead to a quarter inch in diameter and usually show up after age 30. Some cherry angiomas appear smooth and even with your skin, while others appear slightly raised. They can bleed if scratched, rubbed or cut open. Talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in appearance, according to Mount Sinai Health System.

4. Melanocytic nevi (50 percent)

spinner image closeup of a mole on a person's back
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Also known as moles, melanocytic nevi are small, pigmented spots on the skin that usually appear during childhood or adolescence. The number of moles varies by person, from a handful to hundreds. Typically, they have clear-cut edges and are uniform in color. They can darken or enlarge during adolescence or pregnancy. Most moles are harmless, but they can, on rare occasion, become cancerous. So it is important to monitor them and see a dermatologist if they get larger suddenly; develop an irregular border; become darker or inflamed; show spotty color changes; begin to bleed, crack or itch; or become painful, according to Harvard Medical School.

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5. Tinea pedis (48 percent)

spinner image Tinea pedis, or athlete's foot closeup of cracked skin between toes
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Tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot, is a common foot infection caused by fungi called dermatophytes that thrive in warm, moist environments. Symptoms include itchy feet; cracked, blistered or peeling skin between the toes; or redness and scaling on the soles. The infection can also spread to the toenails, turning them thick and cloudy yellow. (Onychomycosis, or nail fungus, was found in 29.9 percent of the older adults.) It can take months for athlete’s foot to respond to treatment, and once someone has been exposed, it’s easy for the fungus to return. Over-the-counter antifungal medications are recommended. If those don’t work, talk to your doctor. People with diabetes easily get skin infections, so they should see a doctor as soon as anything unusual appears on their feet, according to Harvard Medical School.

6. Rosacea (26 percent)

spinner image woman with skin condition rosacea characterized by facial redness and small and superficial dilated blood vessels
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More common among fair-skinned women, rosacea causes redness and visible blood vessels, usually on the face. The skin condition can be mistaken for acne, other skin problems or natural ruddiness. It is a relapsing condition, which means there are periods when symptoms are particularly bad and times when they are less severe. The cause is unknown, but it could be due to a combination of hereditary and environmental factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. There’s no specific test for rosacea, but you may need further tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as lupus. Creams, gels and oral medications can help reduce spots and redness from rosacea. If you have the condition, the Cleveland Clinic advises that you avoid common triggers such as alcohol, spicy food and stress. The National Institutes of Health also recommends that you use pH-balanced skin cleansers rather than soap, use moisturizers regularly and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher when out in the sun.

Other skin conditions

The study found a variety of other skin conditions among older adults, including actinic keratosis (found in 23 percent of older adults). The disease is distinguished by a rough, scaly patch of skin that slowly develops from years of sun exposure on the face, lips, ears, back of hands, forearms, scalp and neck. With time the spots or patches may become hard, with a wartlike surface, and a small percentage can become skin cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. They also found asteatotic eczema, or very dry skin, in 20.8 percent of older adults. It was more common among women.

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