Dry skin or ‘xerosis cutis’ occurs when the natural oil, produced by the skin is depleted, causing the skin cells to form thick, dry scales. The skin’s oil glands produce natural oil, which protects the skin against water loss. This may not be serious, but it creates lines and wrinkles which makes its sight very annoying and uninviting. Almost everyone gets to a point where they have to struggle with this condition, whether male or female, especially when they are past middle age. Dry skin can be inherited or caused by external conditions such as hot or cold weather, low humidity, soaking in hot water, etc. Parts of the body commonly affected are the arms and thighs, the lower legs, and sides of the abdomen.
Severe dry skin conditions will certainly require a dermatologist’s (doctors who specializes in skin conditions) attention. But firs, you can do a lot on your own to improve your skin, including using moisturizers and avoiding harsh, drying soaps.
- Weather: In general, your skin is driest in harmattan, when temperatures and humidity levels plummet. Wind and extreme heat can also dehydrate the skin.
- Sun exposure: Sun dries your skin, and its ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrates far beyond the top layer of skin. The most significant damage occurs deeper, leading to deep wrinkles and loose, sagging skin.
- Frequent baths: Frequent bathing or showering washes away the skin’s natural barrier.
- Chlorinated pools: Frequent swimming, particularly in heavily chlorinated pools can dry out the skin.
- Heat: Central heating, wood-burning stoves, space heaters and fireplaces all reduce humidity and dry your skin.
- Hot baths and showers: Taking long, hot showers or baths can dry your skin.
- Harsh soaps and detergents: Many popular soaps and detergents strip moisture from your skin. Deodorant and antibacterial soaps are usually the most damaging. Many shampoos may dry your scalp.
- Other skin conditions: People with skin conditions like eczema or a skin condition marked by a rapid buildup of rough, dry, dead skin cells that form thick scales are prone to dry skin. Metabolic changes that occur with normal aging or as a result of certain medical conditions.
Dry skin is often temporary, probably weather-related, but it may also be a lifelong condition. And although the skin is often driest on your arms and lower legs, this varies from person to person. What’s more, signs and symptoms of dry skin depend on your age, your health, where you live, time spent outdoors and the cause of the problem. Signs and symptoms depend on a person’s age, health status, exposure to environmental factors and the cause of the problem. It includes:
- Severe scaling or peeling
- Skin tightness or discomfort, especially after showering, bathing or swimming
- Roughness of skin
- Itching on the skin
- Deep fissures that may bleed
- Fine lines or cracks on the skin
- Severe redness
- Gray, ashy skin in people with dark skin
Prevention Techniques and Home Treatment
In most cases, dry skin responds well to lifestyle measures, such as using moisturizers and avoiding long, hot showers and baths. If you have very dry and scaly skin, or skin disease such as atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis or psoriasis, your doctor may recommend prescription creams and ointments or other treatments in addition to home care.
The following measures can help keep your skin moist and healthy:
- Use Moisturizers: Moisturizers provide a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping. Apply moisturizer several times a day. Thicker moisturizers work best, such as over-the-counter brands Eucerin and Cetaphil. You may also want to use cosmetics that contain moisturizers. If your skin is extremely dry, you may want to apply an oil, such as baby oil, while your skin is still moist. Oil has more staying power than moisturizers do and prevents the evaporation of water from the surface of your skin. Another possibility is ointments that contain petroleum jelly (Vaseline, Aquaphor). However, these may feel greasy, so you might use them only at night.
- Use warm water and limit bath time. Long showers or baths and hot water remove oils from your skin. Limit your bath or shower to five to 10 minutes and use warm, not hot, water.
- Avoid harsh, drying soaps. It’s best to use cleansing creams or gentle skin cleansers and bath or shower gels with added moisturizers. Choose mild soaps that have added oils and fats. Avoid deodorant and antibacterial detergents, fragrance, and alcohol.
- Pat-dry your skin instead of rubbing it: Gently pat your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains. Immediately moisturize your skin with an oil or cream to help trap water in the surface cells.
- Use a humidifier. Hot, dry, indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. A portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace adds moisture to the air inside your home. Be sure to keep your humidifier clean to ward off bacteria and fungi.
- Choose fabrics that are kind to your skin. Natural fibers, such as cotton and silk, allow your skin to breathe. But wool, although natural, can irritate even normal skin. Wash your clothes with detergents without dyes or perfumes, both of which can irritate your skin.
You may also want to ensure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day and use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 to retain moisture.
Consulting a Dermatologist
You may have to see a doctor if the condition doesn’t respond to home treatment. Most cases of dry skin condition does not respond well to home treatment. You should consult a dermatologist, if:
- You have large areas of scaling or peeling skin
- You have open sores or infections from scratching
- It is accompanied by redness
- Dry skin doesn’t improve in spite of your best efforts
- Dryness and itching affects your sleep