I’ve always been a skin care lover. I’ve had different AM and PM facial skin-care routines, plus one for my body, for as long as I can remember. I even have my “special” rainy day routine. Until recently, I thought I had all the skin-care bases covered. But, upon becoming an amputee, I quickly found out that while I now had one fewer arms than most, I needed to add an extra skin-care regimen.
Prosthetic limbs can take a significant toll on your skin, and with this comes the need for a routine that’s built specifically for the residual limb that wears the prosthetic. When caring for the skin on a residual limb, fine lines and breakouts aren’t your primary concern. Whereas a flare-up on your face might, at worst, make you want to hole up until it’s gone, an outbreak of any kind on your residual limb could physically hinder your function. If you don’t care for that skin, your ability to wear the tool that gives you independence might be compromised. In that case, glazed donut skin would become the last thing on your radar.
Even if you don’t wear your prosthetic limb all day, every day, you are likely to wear it for at least several consecutive hours when you do. For that entire duration, the skin covered up by your socket (the part of the prosthesis that covers your residual limb) won’t see the light of day, which means it ends up living in an environment that promotes more bacteria growth. Marisa Garshick, a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery (MDCS), says this is not unlike what many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people have found that prolonged mask use can lead to maskne. When our skin is covered, whether by a mask or prosthesis, “this can cause trapped sweat, heat, and moisture, and that can contribute to clogged pores, which can lead to breakouts, irritation, or folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles),” explains Garshik.
Prosthetics were designed to make your life easier, but the best way to get the most out of your prosthesis is to learn to work with it. How you treat the skin beneath its surface is a massive part of that. Below, you’ll find tips for building a routine that benefits both your prosthesis and the skin it touches.
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Cleansing your skin and prosthetic limb
As with the skin on your face, the first step of your prosthetic skin-care routine should be a good cleansing. In fact, it’s arguably even more important than your nightly face wash, as there are more risk factors for the skin of an amputated limb, especially if it’s constantly enclosed by a prosthesis. You’ll want to ensure you’re keeping it clean, but that doesn’t mean scrubbing it raw. “Focusing on maintaining a healthy skin barrier is essential,” explains Garshik. “The skin barrier is both a physical and functional barrier to keep the good things, like moisture, in and the bad things, like external irritants, out.”
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