Healthy, radiant skin isn’t just a superficial goal; it’s a reflection of overall well-being and self-care. Our skin, the body’s largest organ, acts as a protective shield and deserves the best care we can provide.
The prevalence of dry skin – medically referred to as xerosis – is remarkable. At some point in our lives, almost everyone will be troubled by dry skin to some extent. But what’s particularly interesting is how despite how prevalent it may be, comparatively few people understand the true causes, effects or remedies for dry skin.
Knowledge is power, which is why we’ve created this definitive guide to dry skin, packed with the practical insights needed to keep your skin in top condition throughout all four seasons.
Identifying the Symptoms of Dry Skin
Dry skin can manifest in various ways and while some symptoms are easily noticeable, others might not be as apparent at first glance.
Understanding the full spectrum of symptoms is crucial for recognising and addressing dry skin effectively, as it’s not always quite as easy to spot as you might think.
Here are just a few of the telltale signs you may be suffering from skin dryness:
- Visible Flakiness and Redness
The most visible and obvious signs of dry skin are flakiness and redness. If you notice areas of your skin appearing scaly or having a rough texture, it’s a clear indication that your skin’s moisture barrier might be compromised.
- Tightness and Itchiness
Where skin lacks moisture, it can feel tight and itchy – especially after bathing or exposure to dry air. If your skin feels uncomfortably stretched or you find yourself itching frequently, it’s likely that your skin lacks proper hydration.
- Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Dryness of the skin can increase the risk of developing fine lines and wrinkles. When the skin is dehydrated, these lines can become more prominent. Keeping your skin moisturised helps maintain its elasticity and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
- Dull and Lacklustre Appearance
Lack of moisture can result in a dull and lacklustre complexion. If your skin appears less radiant and vibrant than usual, it could be a sign of dryness.
- Sensitive Skin
Skin dryness almost always prompts higher sensitivity to external irritants. If you find that your skin reacts adversely to skincare products or becomes easily irritated by factors like weather changes or certain fabrics, it could be due to dryness.
- Cracks and Deep Fissures
In severe cases, dry skin can lead to cracks and deep fissures, especially in areas like the heels, elbows and knuckles. These cracks can be painful and even lead to bleeding.
- Increased Sensation of Cold or Heat
Another less obvious symptom of skin dryness is sensitivity to temperature changes. You might notice that you feel colder in chilly weather and warmer in hot conditions, as your skin’s ability to regulate temperature can be compromised.
- Increased Susceptibility to Skin Infections
Dry skin can create small openings in the skin’s barrier, making it easier for bacteria and other pathogens to enter. This can increase your susceptibility to skin infections.
- Slight Sunburn
Skin dryness often makes the skin more susceptible to sunburn, even on overcast days. If you notice that your skin burns more quickly than usual when exposed to the sun, it’s a sign that your skin’s protective barrier is compromised.
- Patchiness and Uneven Texture
Patchiness and an uneven skin texture can be caused or exacerbated by skin dryness. You might notice areas of your skin that feel rougher or coarser compared to the rest of your complexion.
- Makeup Application Issues
Dry patches of skin can make makeup application more challenging. If you find that your foundation appears cakey, settles into fine lines, or doesn’t blend smoothly, it could be due to underlying dryness.
- Difficulty Healing
If you notice that minor cuts, scrapes, or blemishes on your skin take longer than usual to heal, it could be indicative of dry skin. Properly moisturised skin has better healing capabilities.
- Nail and Cuticle Problems
Dry skin can in some cases extend to your nails and cuticles, causing them to become brittle, dry and prone to splitting.
- Crepey Skin
As dry skin worsens, it can lead to ‘crepey skin’, which appears thin, fragile and finely wrinkled, resembling crepe paper.
- Increased Allergic Reactions
Dry skin can heighten your skin’s sensitivity, potentially leading to increased allergic reactions to certain substances, such as fragrances or preservatives in skincare products.
If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be able to bring them under control with self-administered care, such as stepping up your everyday skin regime. Though where issues are more severe or prolonged, it is important to bring them to the attention of a doctor or dermatologist for further investigation.
What Causes Skin to Become Dry?
Understanding the cause of dry skin is the first step in the process of bringing it under control. As with most issues regarding skin health, some of the most common triggers of skin dryness are beyond an individual’s direct control. Others, by contrast, are directly related to our lifestyle choices.
But even where an individual is naturally prone to dry skin, there’s much that can be done to prevent or reduce the likelihood of breakouts.
For context, the most common causes of skin dryness are as follows:
- Lack of Moisture
The simplest (and most common) explanation for dry skin is insufficient moisture. When the skin’s natural hydration levels drop, it can no longer retain water effectively, resulting in dryness and tightness.
- Harsh Weather Conditions
The UK’s climate is notoriously unpredictable, bringing cold winds and low humidity levels during the winter months. These conditions can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness. Additionally, exposure to indoor heating systems can exacerbate the issue by further drying out the air.
- Hot Showers and Baths
Although a hot shower or bath can be comforting, it can also be detrimental to your skin. Prolonged exposure to hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, disrupting the moisture barrier and causing dryness – particularly if you live in a hard water area.
- Use of Harsh Soaps and Cleansers
Certain soaps and cleansers contain harsh ingredients that can disrupt the skin’s natural pH balance. This can strip the skin of its protective oils, leading to dryness.
As we age, our skin naturally produces fewer oils and becomes thinner. This can make the skin more susceptible to dryness and reduced elasticity. Using a good quality moisturiser becomes increasingly important as we get older.
- Underlying Health Conditions
Certain health conditions can contribute to dry skin. Hypothyroidism, for instance, reduces the activity of oil glands, leading to dryness. Diabetes can also affect blood circulation and impair the skin’s ability to retain moisture.
Your skin’s hydration is closely linked to your overall hydration. When you’re not drinking enough water, your skin can become dry and dull. Staying well-hydrated is crucial for maintaining healthy skin.
- Unbalanced Diet
Your diet plays a role in the health of your skin. A lack of essential fatty acids, vitamins (especially A, C and E) and minerals can contribute to dry skin. These nutrients help maintain the skin’s moisture barrier and promote overall skin health.
Certain medications, such as diuretics and acne treatments, can have a drying effect on the skin as a side effect. If you’re experiencing dry skin while taking medication, it’s worth discussing with your healthcare provider.
- Frequent Hand Washing
While proper hand hygiene is vital, frequent washing, especially with harsh soaps, can strip the hands of their natural oils, leading to dryness. Be sure to moisturise your hands after washing to keep your skin hydrated.
- Excessive Exfoliation
Exfoliating the skin is beneficial for removing dead skin cells and promoting a healthy glow. However, excessive exfoliation or using overly abrasive products can damage the skin’s protective barrier, leading to dryness and sensitivity.
- Long Exposure to Water
Activities such as swimming and dishwashing can involve prolonged exposure to water. Surprisingly, excessive contact with water can actually strip the skin of its natural oils, contributing to dryness.
- Smoking and Alcohol
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact skin health. Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, while alcohol can dehydrate the body, leading to dry and lacklustre skin.
High levels of stress can trigger various skin issues, including dryness. Stress can disrupt the skin’s barrier function, leading to water loss and dryness.
Making positive lifestyle adjustments can hold the key to bringing mild to moderate cases of dry skin under control. But where skin dryness is prolonged, excessive or becomes a daily discomfort, it may be necessary to seek professional advice on potential treatment avenues.
Stay tuned for the second half of our definitive two-part guide to dry skin, coming soon…