Skin care plays an integral role in an amputee’s independence and mobility. Whether on the lower or upper extremities, the residual’s skin has to maintain its integrity for the proper and comfortable fit and wear of a prosthesis. A daily skincare routine stands as the first defense against the kinds of skin issues that could potentially limit mobility.
Prostheses put the skin under intense pressure and stress that it wasn’t intended to withstand. A skincare routine helps to relieve some of the inherent skin changes (and challenges) that come with prosthetic use.
What Should My Daily Prosthetic Skincare Routine Include?
Every amputation is slightly different in nature, and everyone’s skin has unique needs. However, there are fundamental elements of amputee skin care that should be addressed daily. We've broken it down to the basics, so you know where to start.
Clean and Dry
Cleansing and drying the residual’s skin is one of the best things you can do for your skin health. Wash the skin with a non-soap cleanser, and completely dry it with a soft towel. Most people do better if they wash/shower at night because that gives the skin time to dry completely before donning the prosthesis the next morning. You don't want any water to remain on the skin or trapped in a skin fold because it can contribute to bacterial or fungal infections.
There are times of the year when you may need to wash the skin more often. For example, you may need to shower or cleanse your residual skin two or three times a day in the summer due to excess perspiration. If you naturally perspire more, multiple showers or cleanings may have to be part of your normal routine.
You’ll also need to cleanse (often with the same product you cleansed the skin) and dry your socket, liner, and/or sock on a daily basis. Make sure they’re completely dry before using them again.
After you’ve washed and dried your residual, apply a nighttime moisturizer to nourish the skin, promote healing, and prevent breakdown. Well-moisturized skin stays flexible and soft, which helps it resist cracking, chaffing, and the development of callouses. Rub the moisturizer into the skin until its no longer visible.
Special and/or Spot Treatments
Some people need a daytime moisturizer with antibacterial and antifungal ingredients to fight infection and prevent cracked skin and inflammation. Like the nighttime moisturizer, rub the daytime product into the skin, and let it completely soak in before you put on your prosthesis.
If you have pressure spots, you may need to apply a spot treatment or use a liquid-to-powder product that creates a protective barrier between the skin and the liner. These products reduce friction and prevent irritation even on active days.
Daily Skin Inspections
Once you've gotten a taste of the freedom and mobility of a prosthesis, it's hard to go back to crutches or a wheelchair. However, if the skin starts to break down or gets infected, the quickest solution is often to stay off of the prosthesis. Daily skin inspections are your first line of defense against immobilizing skin issues.
Every morning and night before putting on and after taking off your prosthesis, use a hand mirror to check all sides and angles of your residual. You're looking for signs of irritation like red marks that don't disappear after 10 to 15 minutes, hardened skin, cracks, rashes, and anything else that looks out of the ordinary.
If you have discomfort during the day, take off your prosthesis, and do another skin inspection. You may be able to make a correction on your own by washing and re-moisturizing the skin or changing your sock or liner. However, contact your primary care provider, dermatologist, or prosthetist to discuss your options. Even minor skin problems can be potentially problematic, especially if you have another complicating condition like diabetes.
The Takeaway: Stay on Top of Changing Skincare Needs
A regular skincare routine and daily skin inspections put you a step ahead of potential skin problems. However, the truth is that skin changes over time. You may not struggle with skin integrity now, but that can change with the season or as you age. Healthy skincare habits arm you with the ability to navigate skin-related obstacles before they develop into full-blown hurdles. Be consistent and proactive, and you’ll have the best chance at maintaining a full, active lifestyle.