Did you know that your skin is the largest organ in the body? It is often referred to as a “mirror of the body.” Your skin covers 3,000 square inches of surface area, accounts for about 15% of your body weight, and weighs 6 to 12 lbs. It receives one-third of the blood that is circulating in your body.
The skin is constantly renewing itself by shedding dead cells. As you age, the skin gets thinner and can tear more easily. The skin is very important to your health, as it’s your body’s first line of defense against toxins and bacteria. The skin provides a waterproof covering that retains fluids in the body.
If you cannot control your bladder or bowels, it is important that you practice good skin care and incontinence hygiene each day so you do not develop rashes or infections. Wetness from sweat, urine, and feces can damage your skin. If the wetness stays on your skin and/or in the folds of your skin, your skin has a difficult time keeping a barrier of protection and will start to break down. Once the skin is open, bacteria can enter your skin and cause a rash called perineal dermatitis. Perineal dermatitis is an inflammatory condition of the skin in the perineal area, which is the upper part of the thigh and buttocks that is commonly associated with incontinence. It is manifested by various degrees of skin injury, ranging from redness to areas of denuded skin.
It is vital to cleanse your skin daily—especially the genital area. The genital area is the anus (opening of your rectum where the stool comes out), the penis and scrotum in men, and the outside of the vagina and the opening to the urethra in women.
You can clean this part of your body when you shower or bathe, using regular mild soap and water. You should always clean around your anus after having a bowel movement. Wiping urine or feces away with a washcloth or disposable wipes is also fine. Always clean from front to back. After you are done, pat dry the skin. Don’t rub it dry, as rubbing can cause the skin to break open.
It is important to change a soiled incontinence pad or brief as soon as possible, as you want to minimize the amount of time the wet pad is against your skin.
If you have several bladder and bowel episodes each day or experience nighttime incontinence, you may want to consider putting a “barrier skin product” on the genital area after you clean it. These are skin products made specifically for adults, as the ingredients provide better skin protection than skin products found in diaper rash ointments. Your pharmacist can help you find these products.
When choosing the correct incontinence product, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Avoid traditional products made with plastic materials that can be harmful and irritating to your skin.
- Look for breathable incontinence products with ventilated areas. They allow air to freely migrate to maintain skin wellness, provide comfort, and reduce heat buildup.
- Check for clothlike, hypoallergenic fabrics. Some are even available with skin-soothing ingredients such as aloe, chamomile, and vitamin E.
There are also things you should not do, as they can be harmful to your skin:
- Do not shave your pubic hair. Doing so can cause a rash or infection. If the length of the hair in this area bothers you, carefully trim it.
- Women should not douche, as this can cause changes in and outside of the vagina, making this area more susceptible to infection.
- Avoid sitting in a bathtub full of water. Bathing with a shower is a better option.
- Women should avoid using perfumed soaps and lotions that can be irritating to the genital area.
Have any tips to add? Head over to our living with incontinence forum and join the conversation about good incontinence hygiene practices.