Your skin reacts to everything in your environment. The climate and your diet are just two of the many factors that can influence the structure and health of your skin. Dry skin is a common reaction to various influences, which can usually be easily remedied.
Skincare is a multi-billion-dollar industry encouraging us all to spend our money to look younger and better. It is true that having dry skin can be unpleasant and can lead to infection, bleeding, and other health complications if untreated, but, in most cases, you don’t need expensive remedies to treat it.
Some people are naturally prone to having dry skin, or xeroderma, but it’s generally nothing to worry about. Getting relief from more extreme cases, with diagnoses such as xerosis, may require the help of a dermatologist.
The skin is the largest organ of the human body, typically 1,5 to 2 m2 and making up 12–15% of a person’s total body weight. The skin serves many purposes: it is a self-healing protective covering and the first line of defence against viruses, bacteria, UV radiation, and other potential hazards; it is a sensory organ containing specialized receptors to detect touch, pressure, vibration, temperature, and pain; it excretes sweat and oil; it produces Vitamin D in response to the sun; and it helps regulate body temperature and hydration.
The skin is composed of three strata:
The epidermis, the outermost stratum, is made up of 4 to 5 layers of cells, mainly interlocking keratinocytes that originate in the basal layer, transforming as they rise until they reach the surface and are almost waterproof. The top layer sloughs off and is replaced by new cells every 4 to 6 weeks.
The dermis, the strong, elastic middle stratum, contains many different kinds of cells and structures in two layers—the papillary layer where the sensitive ridges of our fingerprints are located, and the reticular layer that contains blood and lymph vessels, hair follicles, nerve endings, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands, among other structures.
Together, the epidermis and the dermis make up the cutis.
Finally, there is the hypodermis, the deepest or stratum. This is also called the sub-cutaneous layer, or superficial facia. This layer also contains various significant structures but is mostly made up of loose connective tissue and fat lobules.
Compared to women, men’s skin is tougher, 20–25% thicker, contains more collagen, has larger pores, and produces about twice as much oil, so women are more likely to suffer from dry skin.
While changes in any of the layers can play a role, most commonly skin feels dry due to overall dehydration or some disturbance in the natural protective oils in the epidermis.
Many factors can cause the skin to lose moisture. Following pandemic protocols in recent years, most of us have experienced how frequent hand washing and using disinfectant can dry and damage the skin.
Atopic dermatitis, one of the most common forms of eczema. This is a chronic condition in which the immune system becomes disordered and overactive, triggering inflammation that damages the skin’s natural protective barrier leaving it dry and prone to infection.
Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to build up rapidly into thick, scaly, dry patches.
Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland underproduces hormones that protect the skin, hair, and nails.
Diabetes, the inability to regulate blood sugar levels, can cause skin—particularly on the hands, feet, and legs—to become dry and cracked as moisture is pulled from the cells to help flush excess sugar from the body.
Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects the body’s moisture-producing glands, especially in the tear ducts, mouth, and skin.
Ichthyosis, a group of genetic disorders that cause the skin to become thick, dry, and scaly.
Kidney disease, which impairs the organ’s ability to remove waste and excess fluids from the body, often leading to dry skin.
Malnutrition and eating disorders, including anorexia, can also cause the skin to become dry and brittle.
If you struggle with dry skin, there are a number of easy things you can do to soothe and protect your skin.
Consider your skin care routine. Avoid using harsh soaps or detergents that cause dryness or irritation. Instead, use gentle, fragrance-free cleansers on your face and body.
Avoid hot showers and baths. Hot water can also strip the skin of oils, leading to dry and itchy, irritated skin. Try bathing in lukewarm water instead.
Moisturize your skin. Apply a moisturizer after washing to help lock in moisture and keep your skin hydrated. Moisturiser on damp skin right after washing without completely drying off beforehand.
Exfoliating can help remove dead skin cells and allow your moisturizer to penetrate more deeply. However, avoid using harsh scrubs that can irritate the skin. Instead, use a gentle exfoliator once or twice a week and be extra careful when you have a bout of dry skin.
If the air in your home is dry, a humidifier can add moisture to the air, which will help prevent your skin from reacting to dryness in the air.
Wear gloves outside during winter, and when dealing with chemicals at home.
Drink plenty of water.
Applying moisturiser to acne-prone areas may seem counterintuitive but in fact dry skin can reactively overproduce sebum resulting in acne, so moisturising can help re-balance your skin.
Dry lips are caused by the same factors that cause dry skin in general, however some additional factors can influence lip hydration.
Although it may provide temporary relief, saliva evaporates quickly so licking your lips can leave them even drier than before. Likewise, breathing through your mouth, particularly when sleeping, can dry the lips.
Nutrient deficiencies can also cause cracked lips. Be sure to eat a varied diet that includes B-group vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, collagen, and essential fatty acids.
To prevent or treat chapped lips, hydrate, use a high-SPF lip balm, avoid licking, and use a humidifier. If your lips are severely or persistently dry, consult your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying health conditions.
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