What is dry skin?
Dry skin is a common problem caused by insufficient moisture in the epidermis (top layer of the skin). It contains fats and proteins which protect the skin from excessive evaporation of moisture and natural oils. When the lipids and proteins become scarce, the skin naturally dries out. Dry skin is also referred to by dermatologists as Xerosis. Itchy skin is the most pronounced symptom of dry skin and may lead to what is called the itch-scratch cycle. It refers to when one itches and has to scratch, causing more itching and discomfort, and so the person has to keep on scratching. Frequent scratching may cause the skin to toughen and darken, sometimes developing cracks and deep furrows.
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What causes dry skin?
- Environment – You might find your skin feels more dry in the winter as there is less humidity in the air, compared to the summer, which causes water to evaporate from your skin quickly. During cold seasons, people tend to use heaters for warmth which also rid the skin of its natural moisture. Those living in dry ecosystems tend to develop dry skin because evaporation of surfaces is hastened.
- Medication – Certain medications to treat high blood pressure, allergies, diabetes, malnutrition and acne may cause the skin to dry out.
- Chemicals – The use of everyday household products can contribute to the cause of dry skin. Some of them are composed of harsh agents that strip the skin of its natural oils. Soap, for example, removes oils from surfaces. It does the same to the skin. Researchers have proven that the average skin pH is 5.5. Chemicals and agents that surpass this pH encourage dry skin, such as chlorine in a swimming pool.
- Ageing – The lipid and protein layers of the skin usually deteriorate as we get older. Research shows that dry skin is a problem among 75% of those who are 64 years old and above.
- Hormones – An unbalance in hormones can lead to dry skin.
- Health – Atopic dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), hypothyroidism, eczema, psoriasis, lack of vitamin A, and diabetes are examples of health issues that contribute to dry skin.
- Lifestyle – Some occupations, and the working conditions associated with those roles, can lead to the production of dry skin. Such as hair stylists, cleaners, swimming instructors and pilots.
Ways to help dry skin
- Find a suitable moisturiser. If the condition is severe, seek medical help on the type of moisturiser to use. Otherwise, for mild states, over-the-counter moisturisers should work.
- Use warm water instead of hot water when bathing to avoid overly stripping the skin moisture and natural oils.
- Avoid scented cleansers and agents. Go for the non-scented or mildly scented soaps.
- Invest in a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in your home. Dry air hastens moisture loss from the skin.
- Keeping hydrated is very important as it can replace the moisture lost by evaporation and sweating.