The skin is the largest organ of our body that protects us from harmful elements such as solar radiation and also balances our body temperature. Our skin is composed of two main layers, namely the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer that produces keratin (a form of protein that helps safeguard the skin and also helps to prevent moisture loss from it). The next layer, namely the dermis, is responsible for producing collagen and elastin which help to keep the skin firm and flexible.
Dry skin, also called xerosis, is a common problem in many individuals. It is characterized by the loss of moisture from the outermost layer, namely epidermis.
What Causes Dry Skin?
Dry skin is quite often a temporary phenomenon. One may get it in during winters, for example, but it can turn into a prolonged condition for some.
Conditions like environment, heat, hot showers, harsh soaps, and certain medical conditions, etc. can also lead to dry skin. Other causes may include living in cold, dry or humid conditions and constant swimming in chlorinated pools. It can also be attributed to aging.
Normal skin has a soft and smooth texture because of its water content. For skin to remain soft, its outer layer must contain an ideal amount of 20% to 35% water. Normally, the sebaceous glands act as a protective force that prevents the skin from losing water. These glands produce an oily substance called sebum that prevents evaporation of water from the skin by acting as a barrier. However, when there is not enough sebum on the skin, there is a loss of water from the epidermis, and the skin feels dry. The epidermal cells lose moisture and shape. Thus, they are unable to protect the underlying skin as the water evaporates. The result: Skin that looks visibly dry, scaly, and rough to touch.
Dry skin is an indication that your skin needs more attention, and adequate skincare is the only way to avoid it.
Factors Leading to Dry Skin
Lower Sebum Production
Lower sebum production is common among the elderly because the sebaceous glands responsible for producing sebum tend to reduce in number and activity as a person ages.
Lifestyle Factors Leading to Reduction in Sebum
Loss of existing sebum occurs as a result of certain lifestyle factors like having excessive hot showers, using harsh soaps and frequent swimming in chlorinated pools. The chemicals present in the pool water draws moisture from the skin easily. Dry skin is also common among sportspersons who shower several times a day. It may also appear locally in certain parts of the body like the hands - for example, in the case of hairdressers, health care workers and nurses, etc. who have to wash their hands often.
People living in cold, dry, or humid conditions have greater chances of getting dry skin. This is the reason why people living in sunbaked deserts are more prone to dry skin issues. Furthermore, excessive dry interior air can also make the skin feel dry and itchy.
People with certain medical conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc. and those with certain types of skin allergies are also prone to dry skin. It also develops as a side effect of certain medications and topical products like acne creams applied on the skin.
Signs of Dry Skin
- The skin pulls post-cleansing
- The skin is rough, dull and cracks easily
- The skin becomes sensitive to changes in temperature
- There is mild to moderate flaking, scaling or peeling
- The skin is not elastic enough (as appropriate) for your age
- There are fine lines, deep cracks, and redness
Guide to Caring for Dry Skin
Treating dry skin issues is not just about the topical application of products like lotions or creams. It also depends on the way you cleanse the skin, the ambient temperature around you, and the outfits you wear. Dealing with dry skin thus requires a wholesome approach. So follow these tips to soothe your skin and bring back the moisture it craves.
Maintain Shower Temperature
Take shorter showers in cold or warm water. Hot showers are a strict NO. The hot water breaks the skin's lipid barrier which decreases moisture. So try taking shorter hot showers, if you must.
Humidify the Room
Invest in a humidifier if you do not have one. The dry air in your home can be the reason why your skin is freaking out. A humidifier emits moisture into the air in the form of mist, to provide optimal humidity to your room. According to Riley Greene, M.D, The Denver Skin Clinic, using forced air heating in your home, can decrease the humidity by 10%. The skin requires humidity levels of at least 30% to 40% to stay healthy. Humidifiers bridge this gap easily.
The National Institutes of Health recommends humidifiers for relief from congestion, cold, flu, and sinus. Humidifiers help to alleviate dry skin issues and other symptoms of colds, sinuses, and allergies; as they restore essential moisture levels. This helps to moisturize the skin, clear the nasal passages, and thin the mucus which, in turn, allows one to have a good night's sleep. So if you have dry skin and are confined to your home practicing social distancing, invest in a humidifier right away. The key, however, is to maintain the humidifier properly and keep it clean so that you don’t fall sick instead of getting better.
Opt for Ointments or Creams in lieu of Lotions
Lotions can irritate dry skin. Opt instead for ointments or moisturizing creams packed with Vitamin E, aloe vera, shea butter, or soothing oils like jojoba oil or olive oil. Such creams help to fight dryness and keep the skin hydrated for long. Ingredients like lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, etc. also help to soothe dry skin.
Use Gentle Skincare Products
Take care when choosing skincare products as certain products may be too harsh for dry skin. Avoid products that contain alcohol, fragrant products, deodorant soaps, retinoids, etc. Also, avoid overuse of antiperspirants and perfumes. Staying away from harsh products will help the skin to retain its natural oils.
Consume foods that can help your skin remain healthy and eradicate toxins from the body. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon can help one to have a healthy skin. Also, try to incorporate more antioxidants into your diet by consuming foods like blueberries, tomatoes, lentils, peas, carrots, etc. Such foods enable the skin to make healthier cells make your skin appear glowing.
Have a Stylish and Smart Shave
Shaving can irritate dry skin. This is because when you shave, you not only eliminate unwanted hair but also scrape away the skin's natural oils. Hence you must shave smartly if you have dry skin. The best option would be to shave after a shower when the facial hairs are softer, thereby making the shaving process easier. Always use a shaving gel and remember to shave in the direction of hair growth. Also, make sure the razor is sharp because dull razors may require multiple moves which can further irritate the skin in this process.
So follow the above expert tips diligently, and your skin should soon start feeling better.