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If you are an individual, or the caregiver to an individual who suffers from urinary or fecal incontinence, then chances are you have experienced chafed, cracked skin at some point or another.

Unhealthy skin due to incontinence is not surprising, but it is avoidable and treatable. The following is a look at what leads to unhealthy skin, and how to treat and protect the skin to get it back to a healthy condition.

There are a few main factors that lead to chafed, cracked, and unhealthy skin in an incontinent individual. The first is a change in the skin’s pH, the second is prolonged wetness, and a third is friction.

Normal skin has a pH between 5.4 and 5.9. When skin is exposed to urine and feces, the ammonium hydroxide produced by skin being exposed to urine and the bacterial in fecal matter raise the skin pH and lead to a greater increase in bacterial growth. Both urine and feces contain enzymes and organic solutes that can degrade the skin.

Elderly individuals produce less sebum than those with younger skin. Dehydrated skin due to depletion of natural oils (sebum), and the defense system being overburdened, leads to chafing and cracking skin. Using soap to cleanse the skin can further remove sebum, leaving the skin exposed to the damaging effects of moisture and prolonged wetness. Sebum is a lipid based substance that provides a waterproofing layer to the skin. A specially formulated skin cleanser is a better option. When an individual is incontinent, even when the best absorbent supplies are used, their skin will be exposed to more wetness. If a product is not used to act as a barrier to their wetness, it can lead to drying, chafing, cracked, and irritated skin.

Frequent washing and drying can lead to frictional damage. Having ill-fitting absorbent products, and skin that is too hydrated (maceration), or under hydrated, can all increase skin breakdown caused by frictional damage.

So what is the solution? The best solution is a three part solution:

  1. Find the best absorbent products for your body and needs. You can use The Incontinence Product Finder to help sort through the wide variety of options.
  2. Change absorbent products regularly. This will reduce exposure to wetness, and give you a chance to cleanse the skin with a pH balanced cleanser, and protect the skin with ointments and other products to promote healing and health.
  3. Adopt a skin care regimen that promotes healthy skin. If your skin is chafed or cracked, the best options are to moisturize and protect. Consider using a daily care skin protectant such as Lantiseptic to keep skin healthy and hydrated. A good skin protectant cream can help create a superior environment for the healing process.

About R.O.S Therapy Systems: R.O.S. Therapy Systems began as a backyard project in 2010. Scott Silknitter was searching for tools to help his mother care for his father, Roger Owen Silknitter, during a 25-year fight with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. That project became a personal mission to help all family caregivers. From family caregiver training and activity books to mobile apps to activity systems, R.O.S. has grown to become a single-source provider of informational “how to’s” and a growing provider of adaptive tools for the millions of husbands, wives, children, and family members that become caregivers.

Common sense advice and instruction based on proven principles of communication, engagement, and daily living are the heart of everything R.O.S. offers for family caregivers. Improving quality of life for caregivers is our mission, and designing everything for a family caregiver struggling with a loved one is the starting point. Whether it is dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s, ALS, stroke, visual impairment, developmental disabilities, or any other issue that forces someone to care for a loved one, R.O.S. and its Caregiving 101 program are here to help.