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Common skin problems in the over-50s

Lesley Dobson / 15 July 2020

Read our guide to some of the most common skin problems in the over-50s, including actinic keratoses, pruritis, eczema and psoriasis.

Dermatologist examining a female patient's skin
If you find yourself with any of these common skin complaints you should speak to your GP or a dermatologist.

According to the British Skin Foundation around 60% of people in the UK have had a skin disease at some time. Here is our guide to four of those most common in people aged 50 and over.

Patches of sandpaper skin: actinic keratoses

Actinic keratoses are patches of thicker, sometimes scaly, skin that often appear on the backs of your hands and arms, face, ears, and on the scalp of bald men and on women’s lower legs, all areas that may have been exposed to the sun.

These patches can be pink, red or brown or the same colour as your skin. They may be like sandpaper to touch, and may be hard and rather warty, or raised up from the surrounding skin.

Find out more about actinic keratoses causes and treatments

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Itchy skin: pruritus

The main symptom of pruritus is itchy skin without a rash. The most common cause for this condition in people over 65 is dry skin. Itchy skin can also be caused by other skin problems, such as insect bites, eczema, allergies, or conditions that affect the whole body, for instance liver problems, or by medicines.

Itching can also be a result of coming into contact with make up or stinging plants. In some cases it can be hard to find any cause at all. If you are suffering from itchy skin, either in a small area, or all over, see your doctor.

It’s worth thinking about any other symptoms that appeared with the itching, any unusual food you’ve eaten recently. Make a note of anything you’re allergic to, as well as the medicines you take aspirin, for instance, can cause an allergic reaction. Having this information may help your GP pinpoint a possible cause.

Pruritus is one of the most common symptoms of skin disorders. It may appear in just one area of your body, or can cover much larger areas of your skin. Your doctor may carry out a skin biopsy to check on whether you have pruritus, or may may order blood tests to see if any other conditions are making you feel itchy.

If you can find out what’s causing your itchy skin, it should make treating the problem easier.

Your doctor will look at the itchy area of your skin to check for signs of insect bites or allergic reactions. They may suggest swapping one drug for another, if they think your medication may be causing your itching. They may suggest blood tests to check if a medical condition is behind the problem.

There are a number of different treatments you can try for pruritus. You can buy anti-itching creams over the counter, or your GP may prescribe an antihistamine cream. Antihistamine tablets or syrup work in some cases, or you could try a steroid cream. Simple moisturisers can often help, especially if you have dry skin. Ask your pharmacist which moisturiser they would recommend for pruritus.

Applying a moisturiser to the affected areas may help you feel less itchy. According to the British Association of Dermatologists, the greasiest moisturisers are most likely to produce the best results.

Find out more about pruritis causes and treatments

Itchy varicose veins: varicose eczema

There are a number of different types of eczema (also known as dermatitis), which commonly result in patches of dry, scaly, red and itchy skin. In more severe cases, there may also be weeping, crusting and bleeding.

Varicose eczema is particularly common in women, those with varicose veins, and obese older people. Reports suggest that 20% of those aged over 70 are affected by it. It begins with mild itchiness of your skin around a patch of varicose veins, becoming speckled, scaly and inflamed. It may, in some cases, also turn brown and feel hard to the touch.

Treatments include raising your legs often (on a chair or stool), making sure you keep active, and applying moisturisers and corticosteroid creams (ask your GP about these) to the skin on your legs.

Find out more about the causes and treatments for varicose eczema

Red flaky skin: psoriasis

Psoriasis is a non-contagious condition that usually causes reddened patches of skin covered with thin silvery scales. Although it often develops in the teens or 20s, it can also appear in men and women in their 50s or 60s.

There are a number of types of psoriasis, including plaque psoriasis, scalp psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, nail psoriasis and, sometimes, psoriatic arthritis, which affects the joints.

Psoriasis can affect about 2% of the UK population, but generally affects adults under 35 most often.

Find out more about psoriasis

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.