Skin Tears in Older Adults

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Did you know that your skin is the largest and heaviest organ in your  body? Indeed, skin is actually quite an amazing organ serving many important functions. Foremost, the skin’s epidermis (outer layer) acts as a barrier, protecting the body’s internal parts from the harmful elements of the outside world. This includes cold, sun, moisture, germs, and other damaging substances.

In addition, your skin’s appearance assists your doctor in assessing your overall health. For example, new moles, or changes in existing moles, may be suspicious for cancer. A yellowish skin tone could indicate hepatitis, or a disorder with the liver or pancreas. A pale tone could be a sign of a blood disorder. In addition, skin helps regulate body temperature, plays a role in preventing dehydration, and allows you to feel different sensations, like cold, heat, pressure, itching, and pain.

Skin Tears

A skin tear is an open wound anywhere on the body which separates the top layer of the skin from an underlying layer. These wounds are common in older adults as skin becomes thinner, drier, and more fragile with aging. Simply bumping into a piece of furniture, hitting your hand against a doorknob, or even removing a bandage can cause a skin tear. Medications, falls, poor nutrition, and chronic illness–common among seniors– are also risk factors for skin tears.

Skin tears are considered minor wounds and do not usually need stitches. However, some take a long time to heal. Clean and disinfect the wound and cover with a petroleum-based gauze wrap and a non-adhesive bandage or tape. You may need to see a physician for a larger wound, with a skin flap, which will need to be put back in place.


The best treatment for skin tears is prevention. Follow these tips to keep your skin healthy to help avoid tears and other common conditions:

  • Moisturize your skin twice a day.
  • Drink water to hydrate to help skin become plump and improve its elasticity. Skin will crack less and stay healthier to help prevent tears.
  • Take fewer baths or showers and use milder soap to avoid drying out your skin. Warm water is less drying than hot water. Don’t add bath oil to your water. It can make the tub too slippery.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to a room.
  • Limit sun exposure.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • Wear long pants and sleeves for protection.. This will limit your sun exposure and provide an extra layer to help avoid tears.
  • Clear your home. Since skin tears are often caused by bumps or falls, it is important to keep your environment safe. Make a clear path in your home in high traffic areas, clean up all clutter which poses a trip hazard, and wear non-slip shoes both inside and outside the home.
  • Be careful of jewelry. A watch or wedding ring can cause a skin tear so make sure all care providers remove jewelry when working with senior patients.



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