AIM: This systematic review aimed to evaluate the best available evidence regarding the effectiveness of topical skin care interventions for residents of aged care facilities. INTRODUCTION: Natural changes to skin, as well as increased predisposition to pressure sores and incontinence, means residents of aged care facilities readily require topical skin care. A range of interventions exist that aim to maintain or improve the integrity of skin of older adults. METHODS: Pubmed, Embase, Current Contents, CINAHL and The Cochrane Library databases were searched, as well as Health Technology Assessment websites up to April 2003. Systematic reviews and randomized or non-randomized controlled trials were evaluated for quality and data were independently extracted by two reviewers. RESULTS: The effectiveness of topical skin interventions was variable and dependent on the skin condition being treated. Studies examined the effectiveness of washing products on incontinence irritated skin. Disposable bodyworns may prevent deterioration of skin condition better than non-disposable underpads or bodyworns. Clinisan, a no-rinse cleanser may reduce the incidence of incontinence associated pressure ulcers when compared with soap and water. CONCLUSION: In general the quality of evidence for interventions to improve or maintain the skin condition in the older person was poor and more research in this area is needed. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Skin care is a major issue for nurses working with older people. On the basis of this review no clear recommendations can be made. This lack of strong evidence for nurses to base effective practice decisions is problematic. However, the 'best' evidence suggests that disposable bodyworns are a good investment in the fight against skin deterioration. No rinse cleansers are to be preferred over soap and the use of the bag bath appears to be a useful practice to reduce the risk of dry skin (a risk factor for breaches in skin integrity).