What would cause skin to shed and how is it treated?

Wise woman asked...

I had to bring my 88 yr old mom to live with me, she could not take care of herself alone. I bathe her about every four days. I put lots of cream on the skin. But once in bed I notice a lot of dead skin shedding all over the sheets from head to toe. I have to wash the sheets to get rid of it. I wonder if I bathe once a week if the same thing will occur. I also wonder if I used oil of some kind and not cream would that work better. I fear getting oil all over the sheets. Any thoughts would be helpful. I had CNA training and did home health for two years, but this was not discussed. Thank you.

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Reading your question, you do not mention if her skin is actually dry or flaky, you just say that you notice dead skin flakes on her sheets. You also do not mention any rash, so I will assume that there is none. I am thinking that this dry skin is actually coming from her legs. As people age, they can get a skin condition called venous stasis, which can cause dry, irritated skin on the legs. This will often flake off when people move around in bed.

What I would recommend is instead of using a cream on her legs is to try using petroleum jelly, which works really well as a moisturizer for very dry skin. I think that bathing her every four days is fine. When you wash her, make sure you wash her legs with a washcloth to wipe off any dead skin on her legs. Don't rub too hard when washing her, however. After her bath, you can apply petroleum jelly from her feet to her knees (avoid the toes completely). Make sure you put socks on after this, as the soles of the feet can be really slippery and increase the risk for falls.

You can also try an oil, like baby oil, but you are correct in thinking that this will make the sheets oily.

In a couple of weeks, you should see an improvement in her skin itself, and you should see less dead skin on her sheets. Good luck!