Skin Care – Living with Paralysis

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
07/12/17  10:13 AM PST
Does air help wound healing

Love the Skin You Live In

Our skin, the largest organ of the body, is the suit of armor we live in. It possesses both great strength and resiliency – but also is thin, fragile, and if neglected or ignored will breakdown and become a cause of great suffering.

The general education about skin is that we must wash it, moisturize it and protect it with lotion barriers from harsh ultraviolet sun rays. There is, however, much more to know about the skin when living with a spinal cord injury.

Don’t Learn The Hard Way!

Like I did. In my recent blog about wheelchair cushions I touched briefly on my first-hand experience with skin breakdown. As a newly injured adolescent, I was unaware of tissue degradation from simply sitting or lying in place for prolonged periods of time. Time under pressure is disastrous for soft-tissue and can cause irreparable damage. I highly recommend learning more about pressure injuries.


Because I live with motor and sensory impairment, my skin does not sweat well or evenly. It clogs easily and sometimes I have cuts or abrasions of which I am unaware. Keeping my skin clean, dry and moisturized in the right areas is imperative for my immune system health, thermoregulation and overall vitality (not to mention a youthful look!). I give extra attention to my skin by exfoliating with a loofa sponge to remove dead skin and thoroughly washing body parts like my hands, feet (in between toes), armpits, back of the knees, crevasse of the arms and my caboose with anti-microbial soap (Hibiclens) to reduce bacterial growth (which is the cause of both odor and infection).


Some soaps are too harsh for genitals – I recommend reading the warning label before use. Try searching in your web browser for “soap for washing private area” to find some solutions.


A secondary complication to spinal cord injury is poor circulation. This can cause swelling of the extremities, causing dry skin to crack which can create open wounds and opening the door for bacteria to party. I keep swelling down through mindful movement, limb elevation and the use of compression socks and/or wraps to manage periodic swelling.


What you wear has a direct effect on skin integrity, and can be just as important as all the other skin care factors in this article. Wearing functional clothing that fits in all the right places and is made with high quality, breathable material is on par with the style it exudes. Specialty brands like Endless Ability make denim jeans, custom-fit for wheelchair users: sewing seams flat, without back-pockets or belt loops to prevent pressure areas or chafing while seated.

Of Course: Sunblock

It goes without saying that protecting your skin from intense ultraviolet sun rays is important. It is, however, a bit more concerning with a spinal cord injury.

Because of sensory, circulatory and motor function impairment, the sun can cause much more than a superficial skin burn. If exposed to direct, unshaded sun, a spinal-cord-injured person can unknowingly be at risk of raised internal core-body temperature, which may lead to a deadly condition known as Autonomic Dysreflexia. Learn about it!

A sunburn with water blisters can also quickly progress into a much more severe condition because of the potential for open wounds.

I use ample sunscreen when exposed to the sun because I have learned the hard way that my skin requires more love, more attention and a gentle hand. And you’d be hard-pressed to find me outside for more than a few minutes without a hat!

Let’s Not Forget Nutrition!

Everything we put into our mouth affects our skin – in fact, you can often smell what you eat through your skin. The skin is a great indicator of our health and hydration. I start my day with a glass of water that has a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sea-salt added. This stimulates my metabolism and hydrates my thirsty cells with electrolytes. I also like to blend bunches of colorful fruits and vegetables for nutrient-rich juice smoothies that will make my skin glow.

So when the summer sun is out, find an umbrella for shade (and for your drink!), slather on some sunscreen and I’ll see you by the water!


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