Dry skin usually isn’t a serious condition but it sure is an uncomfortable one. In most cases dry skin is usually short-lived and can be remedied by making a few lifestyle changes and boosting up your skincare.
Dry skin is usually marked by tightness, flaking, itching, stinging and cracking of the skin. Any skin type can experience dry skin, including those with oily, combination or acne-prone skin. However, it is most commonly experienced by those who have drier skin types or those who have issues with their skin barrier.
Firstly it is useful to understand how the skin protects itself and what dry skin actually is.
Dry vs Dehydrated Skin
Dry and dehydrated skin are not the same thing. If you have dry skin, it means that you have fewer oil glands that are working to protect the skin from moisture loss. Dry skin can be a skin type or it can be caused by a number of lifestyle factors such as diet, environement, skincare products, genetics and medications.
Without sufficient oil, the skin cannot retain moisture or create a strong barrier to protect itself. Dry skin tends to be flaky and tight- and most of the flaking happens around the eyebrows and around the nostrils. Dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water, rather than oil. However, many people who experience dry skin may also have dehydrated skin as the skin’s natural barrier is unable to function properly and prevent moisture loss.
What Is The Skin Barrier?
The skin barrier refers to the top layers of skin, natural oils or sebum, ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids. The barrier helps to protect the skin from bacteria, allergens and fungi as well as prevent water loss to the air. The balance of skin cells and natural oils are crucial for a healthy skin barrier. The oils or lipids act like glue between the skin cells, creating a barrier that protects your skin.
When the skin loses moisture or water to the air it is called transepidermal water loss or TEWL. When the skin lacks moisture it can exacerbate fine lines, wrinkles, dull skin and can make the skin look dehydrated.
When the skin’s natural barrier is disrupted or damaged it can cause irritation and sensitivity. The skin’s barrier can be damaged by overexfoliation, overuse of active skincare ingredient, genetics, and environment. Damage to the skin’s natural barrier has been linked to conditions such as eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis.
How Do I Know If My Skin Is Dry?
Dry skin is usually temporary and it is pretty easy to identify. Symptoms can vary depending on your age, sex, health, environment and whether you work outdoors or indoors.
The most common symptoms include:
- Tightness: Your skin feels tight, especially after bathing, showering or swimming. You may even find that the tightness isn’t alleviated by your normal skincare products.
- Dull skin: Dry skin will often look grey, ashy or dull when it is dry. This is because the skin doesn’t have adequate oils to give your skin a healthy appearance. This dullness can be exacerbated by dehydrated skin, a lack of water.
- Itching: Itching can be a sign of dry skin. However, it can also mean something else is going on. If your skin is a little itchy it may just be dry skin, if your skin is quite itchy then it may be time to visit the doctor.
- Rough skin: When the skin is dry, there isn’t enough oil or lipids to hold the skin cells together, forming the skin barrier. This can often lead to the skin looking rough or even flaky.
- Fine lines: When the skin is dry, fine lines and wrinkles are exacerbated.
- Cracking: In some more severe forms of dry skin, the skin can become cracked or even bleed. This is because the oils that protect the skin are no longer working hard enough to counteract your environment, medications or genetics. This can be quite painful and can increase your risk of infection.
When Should You See Your Doctor About Dry Skin?
Most cases of dry skin can be treated effectively at home with lifestyle changes or boosting your skincare routine. However, there are a few instances when a doctor may be necessary.
When should you see your doctor about dry skin:
- If your dry skin isn’t improving despite lifestyle and skincare changes.
- If your dry skin is disrupting your sleep, whether that be from itching or from discomfort.
- If you have deep crack, wounds or sores that are associated with the dry skin.
- If you have large areas of peeling or flaking.
What Are The Common Reasons For Dry Skin?
Dry skin can be caused by a multitude of factors that include lifestyle, genetics, environement, and medications. Here is a list of potential reasons you may be experiencing dry skin:
Weather can impact your skin. Dry skin tends to occur in drier climates and in winter when the air is drier and cooler.
Hot baths and shower:
Hot water and shower can dry out the skin both through the heat and through the contact with water. Heat can draw out the moisture from the skin and water can disrupt the natural oils that protect the skin.
One way to mitigate the effect of hot showers and baths is to protect the skin from the hot water. This can include applying oil or petroleum jelly to the skin before showering. This creates a protective barrier between your skin and the hot water.
Harsh, stripping products such as soap, detergents, and shampoos can strip the skin of its natural oils.
This can also occur with products that have a low or high pH. Our skin is naturally acidic, sitting in the pH range between 4.75-5.5 Some products can be too acidic or basic for the skin.
Traditionally, soaps tend to be basic, which alongside being stripping can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier and irritate the skin.
Over-using skincare products:
Exfoliation can be a beneficial and useful tool in your skincare routine, especially if you have dry, flaky skin. However, over-exfolation can disrupt the skin barrier, making dry skin worse.
Some exfoliatiors are better than others. For instance physical exfoliators such as scrubs are often too harsh for most skin types. Chemical exfoliators are usually the better option as they tend to be more gentle on the skin. Some common chemical exfoliators include fruit enzymes and acids.
Some skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis are prone to dry skin. These skin conditions have been linked with disruption of the skin barrier.
Medications can have an impact on how dry your skin is. Medications such as benzoyl peroxide, retinoids and some oral medications can make your skin feel drier. Speak with your doctor if you feel this may be an impacting factor.
Applying moisturizer at the wrong time:
Making sure you are using the right moisturizing products is part of the solution to helping dry skin but the way you use it can also be a conrtibuting factor to dry skin. The best way to apply your moisturizer is to apply it after your shower, while your skin is still damp. This traps water between the skin and moisturizer, helping to hydrate the skin.
Not using the right moisturizer for your skin:
Just like the weather changes throughout the year, your skincare may need to be adjusted as well. In winter you may need to use a thicker or richer moisturizer to combat the drier climate or use of heaters.
Your not drinking enough water or not eating enough good fats:
Proper hydration through water intake can help to keep the skin happy and healthy. It is easier to become dehydrated when it’s cold outside. Unfortunately, a glass of cold water on a cold day may not be what you feel like. Try some hot tea to help increase your water intake.
If you are not eating enough good fats this can also impact how dry your skin is. Given that your skin uses what you eat to produce the natural oils it uses to protect your skin, if you aren’t eating enough good fat, your skin may be impacted.
Including healthy fats such as omegas from salmon, flaxseed and nuts can help to supplement your intake of healthy fats.
Some people are just more predisposed to drier skin. Some research suggests that some people with dry skin may have mutations that affect the way proteins form the skin barrier.
If this is the case, your family is likely to have a similar skin type. The best way to address genetic dry skin is through lifestyle and skincare changes.
Who Is Most Likely To Experience Dry Skin?
Anyone can develop dry skin, it can be temporary or long term. However there are a few factors that can impact the likelihood of you having dry skin:
As we age our skin produces less and less oil, it is part of the reason we get wrinkles as we age. If you are in your 40s or older you are more likely to experience dry skin.
If you live in dry climates such as in cold places or dry hot places you are more likely to experience dry skin. This can include climates where air conditioning or heater is often needed.
Your occupation can impact your dry skin. If you work in a role that requires you to wash your hands frequently or regularly immerse or expose yourself to water, this can increase the likelihood of dry skin.
How To Treat Dry Skin?
This may seem like an obvious solution but there are a few things to consider when you moisturize your skin. Firstly is whether you have a thick enough product. Thick moisturizers often have a higher content of oils which makes them just the bit more protectivce and beneficial for dry skin.
Secondly, whether your product contains ingredients that will help to support your dry skin. Ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids, and humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin are great at providing the skin with that extra little boost it may need to protect itself and keep hydrated and moisturized.
And thirdly, whether you are giving your skin enough protection. One of the best ways to protect the skin and prevent moisture loss is through a technique known as slugging, excuse the name.
Slugging is a Korean skincare trend that entails slathering your skin with petrolatum or Vaseline to help improve the skin’s moisture content.
Slugging is works by trapping water underneath an occlusive layer or barrier forming ingredient, such as petrolatum or Vaseline. This barrier helps to prevent what’s known as transepidermal water loss or TEWL. TEWL occurs when the skin loses water to the air.
Slugging actually works best when you use your normal skincare routine underneath it as this traps hydrating ingredients and oils close to the skin.
Sluggin is best performed at night so that it doesn’t interact with your makeup or sunscreen. However, if you have exceptionally dry skin it may be beneficial to slug during the day for a short period of time as well. Here is some more information on slugging.
Avoid harsh products:
If you are experiencing dry skin, avoiding harsh products such as soaps, shampoos, detergents and even exfoliators is important.
Opt for soap-free products. Soap-free products won’t strip the skin of its natural oils. They are also often formulated to provide the skin with extra moisture.
In cold or dry climates it can be useful to cover the skin so that it isn’t exposed to the dry air. This can include gloves, scarves, and protecting the skin by using thick moisturizers or petroleum jelly.
Use a humidifier:
Using a humidifier can help to mitigate the effects of the dry air. This can help to reduce the water loss from the skin to the air.
Limit your exposure to water, especially hot water:
Limiting your shower or bath to 5-10 minutes daily and reducing the temperature of the water can reduce the amount of natural oils that are stripped from the skin.
If you aren’t ready to give up those hot showers just yet, you can also try applying an oil or layer of Vaseline to the skin before showering to protect the skin from the harsh effects of water.
Avoid damaging the skin:
Avoid using exfoliating scrubs, scrub brushes and even washcloths whilst showering or bathing. The friction that these cause can disrupt the skin barrier, reducing its ability to protect the skin. The same goes for drying off after your shower, pat rather than rub your skin dry.
Use fragrance-free laundry detergents and avoid fabric softeners:
Laundry detergents and fabric softeners can irritate some skin types, particularly when the skin is dry.
Avoid fabrics that irritate the skin:
Course, rough or wool fabric can irritate the skin. So, try wearing soft fabrics with a fine weave. This also includes your bedding, opt for soften, fine woven fabrics and even consider a silk pillowcase.
What Should I Look For In A Moisturizer?
If you experience dry skin, it is important to look for moisturizers that help protect, hydrate and provide oil to the skin.
Humectants are a type of ingredient that help to pull water into the skin. They are great for dehydrated skin and can help to increase the skin’s moisture content. Humectant ingredients are generally applied to the skin first and need to be trapped in by occulsive ingredients. They can also be formulated into moisturizers. Some common humectants include:
- Hyaluronic acid
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
- Amino acids
- Sugar alcohols (glycerin, sorbitol, xylitol, etc.)
- Aloe vera
Occlusive moisturizers contain ingredients that create a physical barrier on top of the skin that helps prevent trans-epidermal water. These ingredients feel thick and heavy after application since they are not absorbed into the skin. Occulsive ingredients are best applied over the top of your other skincare to trap in the moisture and oils they provide.
Examples of occlusive ingredients include the following:
- Mineral oil
The third type of ingredient that is usually found in moisturizer is an emmoilent. An emollient is an oily substance that fills in the spaces between dead skin cells, thus creating a smooth skin surface. Basically, an emollient is a film forming substance that makes the skin feel and look smooth. While an emollient will provide some occlusive effects, the primary function is to help soften the skin.
Examples of emollients include the following:
- Fatty acids
Generally, it is best to look for a moisturizer that has a combination of all three ingredient types. However, if you have especially dry skin it may be best to layer these three ingredient types such as a humectant serum, then emollient, then and occulsive barrier.
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