Dry Skin: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

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Feeling tight, flaky and itchy? Dry skin (xerosis) is incredibly common, affecting people of all skin types and ages and on various parts of the body. For some it might be an occasional episode, while for others it can be a chronic, irritating problem impacting their quality of life. On the bright side, people with dry skin may also tend to have small pores and rarely break out.

The causes of dry skin can vary from external - climate, environment and lifestyle, to internal – medications, hormone fluctuations and coexisting diseases. Whatever the cause, the features are essentially the same – lack of hydration and a disturbed lipid content in the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin) allowing moisture to escape and irritants to enter causing scaliness, itching and loss of elasticity. The frequency of dry skin tends to increase with age, making it that much harder to battle.

Characteristics of dry skin:

  • Skin feels tight, lacks elasticity
  • Skin texture feels rough
  • Complexion looks dull and blotchy
  • Scaling, flaking and itchiness
  • Cracking, redness and irritation
  • Pores barely visible
  • Fine lines and wrinkles

Dry skin causes that are manageable:

Taking long, hot showers:

Strips the skin of natural oils and disrupts the skin barrier. Keep showers warm (not hot) and short (10 minutes or less).

Washing with harsh soaps:

Can also remove lipid layers and decrease skin barrier function. Gentle, soap-free cleansers are much better for the slightly acidic pH of the skin and will cleanse without damaging the skin barrier.

Exfoliating too much:

There is such as thing as too much of a good thing. Over-exfoliating can remove healthy skin instead of dead skin, leading to redness, drying and flaking. You may need to minimize usage of exfoliating washes to once or twice a week and look for products that contain glycolic acid or salicylic acid or gentler polyhydroxy acids.

Using the wrong moisturizer:

If your skin is dry and you use a water-based product with low oil content, your lotion may evaporate faster than your skin can absorb it. For dry skin, a thicker cream may be more appropriate and should be used right after showering to trap moisture in the skin.

Using harsh laundry detergents:

Or fabric softeners can cause skin reactions. Look for unscented or hypoallergenic detergents.

Using products that contain retinol:

While it’s one of the gold standards of anti-aging ingredients, retinol can be drying to the skin. Try using it every other night until your skin adjusts and apply a moisturizer afterwards to help keep your skin hydrated.

Not using a humidifier:

Cold temperatures and low humidity rob skin of moisture. A cool mist humidifier will help add moisture back into the air.

Choosing a Dry Skin Regimen

The ideal skincare regimen for dry skin uses several different moisturizing ingredients to restore skin hydration, improve the skin barrier, and increase skin’s natural moisturizing factor, or NMF.

References

Harding, Watkinson, Rawlings, and Scott, (2000), Dry skin, moisturization and corneodesmolysis. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 22: 21-52.

Flynn, TC et al., Dry skin and moisturizers. Clinics in Dermatology , Volume 19 , Issue 4 , 387 – 392.

Guenther L, et al. Pathway to Dry Skin Prevention and Treatment. Journal of cutaneous medicine and surgery. 16. 23-31. 10.2310/7750.2011.10104

Dry skin. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/dry-sweaty-skin/dry-skin#causes

Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin. https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/skin-care/dry-skin#causes

Dry skin. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-skin/symptoms-causes/dxc-20248892