Multiple factors can contribute to drying skin: aging, an underlying skin condition, or environmental factors. Whatever the cause, dry skin is annoyingly uncomfortable and itchy and can prove unsightly for some, too.
Dry skin, formally known as xerosis, is fairly common and can occur at any age and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it resolves on its own, and sometimes you need to call in your dermatologist for help.
What Causes Dry Skin?
The easy answer would be that skin becomes dry when it loses too much water or oil. Anyone can get it, though some people are more likely to be affected than others. Some causes or contributing factors include:
- Age: Our skin becomes thinner and drier as we age. By the time we’re in our 40’s many people will need to use a good moisturizer every day.
- Skin disease: Those with atopic dermatitis (eczema) as children are more likely to have dry skin as adults. Psoriasis is another one that can lead to very dry skin.
- Swimming: High levels of chlorine can dry the skin out.
- Climate: Less moisture in the air can lead to dry skin.
- Job: People who spend time immersed in water or washing their hands all day can make their skin dry, raw, and cracked.
- Genetics: Researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland now say that it can be inherited.
In addition, it may correlate with other skin diseases or associated with pathological conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, Sjogren syndrome, or malnutrition.
The skin’s outer layer loses its ability to hold together and protect the inner layers beneath it. The inner layers, responsible for most of the skin’s moisture, lose their water through the damaged skin barrier.
Signs Of Dry Skin
Common signs and symptoms of dry skin include:
- Rough, scaly, or flaking skin
- Gray, ashy skin (in people with dark skin tones)
- Chapped or cracked lips
- Cracks in the skin, which may bleed if severe
If you’ve had dry skin long enough or severely enough that your skin cracks, you’ll want to be watchful. Cracked skin opens the door for germs to get through and cause an infection. Be on the lookout for red, sore spots, as they may be early signs.
How to Help Dry Skin
Using a good moisturizer can go a long way towards alleviating the discomfort and helping to repair your dry skin. Being diligent with your daily moisturization is essential. “Look for ceramides and lipids in moisturizers, which help build and reinforce the skin barrier,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Dermatology Department at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
If possible, it’s best to avoid anything that may trigger or irritate dry skin such as fragrance. Lotions and creams crammed with fragrance can actually do more harm than good. Look for formulas that contain ingredients like honey and vanilla, and bean-based butters like cocoa and shea for hydration that utilizes non-drying scents.
Many people focus on scrubbing their hands too harshly in hot water, and too often. You can help to mitigate the drying effects by using lukewarm water and a cream-based hand cleanser, then immediately follow with lotion while your hands are still wet.
Along the same lines, harsh cleansers can strip your skin of moisture. Carefully choose your face and body wash to be gentle. That should also go for your laundry soaps and fabric softeners. Opt for gentle, unscented options like All Free and Clear. When scrubbing dishes and cleaning your house, don a pair of rubber gloves to protect your skin from the harsh chemicals.
Oils like Sciaessentials DELTA-5 have the ability to not only alleviate irritation, but can help to improve the skin’s barrier function. It contains linoleic acid plus sciadonic acid, a key fatty acid, to help build and improve the skin’s ceramide structure. It also helps to decrease molecules that cause inflammation of the skin, helping to break the cycle.
“Hard” water that contains a high concentration of minerals (lead, magnesium, and zinc) can leave a film on the skin that causes dryness. “Heavy metals turn the oils on skin into a thick substance that plugs glands, aggravates conditions like acne and rosacea, and prevents moisturizers from being absorbed into the skin,” says Dennis Gross, MD, a New York City dermatologist. A home filtration system could lighten the mineral content of water. Making sure your skin care regimen contains chelators like vitamins A and C can help to counteract the coating left behind by hard water.
Forced air, particularly in the winter time removes humidity from the air, making skin feel dry and itchy. A humidifier can help to restore moisture to the air around your house.
If you have extremely dry skin, be sure to consult your dermatologist. It could be a warning sign of a skin problem called dermatitis. This inflammation is better treated earlier, rather than later, as without treatment, it often gets worse.