Dry, flaky skin, also referred to as xerosis, not only looks unattractive, it can be uncomfortably tight and itchy. In severe cases, the skin is so dry that fissures and cracks develop which can become inflamed or infected. The symptoms worsen in the winter months when skin is exposed to dry air and heat, but some people deal with xerosis all year round.
What Causes It?
Dry skin is caused by a lack of moisture in the outer layer of the skin. The outermost layer of the skin contains lipids. These lipids consist of ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol that help to hold in water and prevent dryness. People with dry skin often have lower levels of ceramides. This affects the skin’s ability to retain moisture. When the outer layer of skin is too dry, skin cells aren’t shed properly and the cells build up on the surface of the skin causing it to look rough and flaky.
Some people are prone towards dry skin genetically, but lifestyle habits play a role too. Ceramides that keep skin moist and supple can be stripped away by using harsh cleansers and detergents, washing skin in hot water, exposing skin to chemicals, frequent bathing and exposure to dry air or extremes in temperature. Areas with the fewest oil glands such as the extremities and trunk are most susceptible.
What to Do About It
It’s important to reduce your skin’s exposure to elements that damage the lipid layer and remove moisture from the skin. Some people live in homes with a low humidity. Adding a home humidifier to increase moisture in the air is a simple way to sooth dry, irritated skin. Staying covered up outdoors in the winter helps too.
Some people are prone towards dry skin genetically, but lifestyle habits play a role too.
Another problem that aggravates xerosis is excessive exposure to water, especially hot water. Dry skin was less common years ago when people didn’t have the convenience of taking a shower every day. Using harsh cleansers and bath products including soap also worsen the problem by stripping away the lipids and oils that keep skin moist. A better alternative is to use a soap-free cleanser which contains ingredients that remove dirt while helping to repair the protective lipid barrier. Keep baths short, and use warm, not hot, water. A brief shower is a better alternative.
After cleansing, it’s important to moisturize. Pat skin dry and immediately apply a layer of moisturizer while skin is still slightly damp. Choose one that contains ingredients known to be effective for dry skin such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, alpha-hydroxy acids or urea. Alpha-hydroxy acids have the additional advantage of smoothing the skin surface and improving its texture so it reflects light better, making skin look more youthful. Stay away from lanolin and fragrance which can irritate the skin.
A lotion works well for xerosis on the body, but creams are better for treating facial dryness. Select a product which contains hyaluronic acid and glycerin along with other moisturizers such as shea butter and safflower seed oil to retain moisture. Using a combination of moisturizers also helps to smooth out the appearance of fine lines and makes skin feel supple and silky.
The Bottom Line?
Dry skin is more than just a cosmetic problem. It can make skin feel itchy and uncomfortable. Fortunately, it can be treated by making a few lifestyle changes and using the right skin care products.