How many of us have experienced dry skin? For most, this is a temporary nuisance that occurs mainly during the winter months. However, for some it may be a lifelong issue. Although skin is often most dry on your arms, lower legs, and the sides of your tummy, this pattern can vary greatly from one individual to another. The severity and cause of dry skin can depend on a number of factors, including your age, overall health, location, and time spent outdoors. The signs of dry skin are generally quite obvious and can include the following:
- A feeling of tightness, especially after showering or bathing
- Skin that feels and looks rough
- Flaking, scaling, or peeling
- Fine lines or cracks
- Deep cracks that may bleed
Most cases of dry skin are caused by environmental factors. However, certain medical conditions can also affect the function and appearance of your skin. The most common causes of dry skin include:
- Weather. When temperatures and humidity levels plummet (generally in winter), it can significantly affect skin’s moisture levels. Winter weather can also exacerbate existing skin conditions. In desert regions, where the temperatures are elevated while humidity remains low, your skin can also dry out.
- Hot baths & showers. Frequent and extended hot showers and baths can break down the lipid barriers in your skin. This can also occur from frequent swimming, especially in heavily chlorinated pools.
- Central heating and air conditioning. Reduce humidity and dry your skin.
- Harsh soaps and detergents. Many popular soaps are formulated with an alkaline pH, which strips lipids and water from your skin. Loss of these moisture retaining lipids can lead to dry skin.
- Sun exposure. Like other types of heat, the sun dries your skin. In addition, the damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation can further damage your skin’s health - leading to more serious effects, such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and an increased risk of skin cancer.
In most situations, simple lifestyle changes, such as using moisturizers and avoiding long, hot showers can help alleviate dry skin. While you might not be able to achieve perfectly flawless skin, the following simple measures can help keep it feeling soft and healthy:
- Moisturize your skin. Moisturizers provide a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping or evaporating.
- Use warm water and limit bath time.
- Avoid harsh, drying soaps.
- Apply moisturizers immediately after bathing. After washing, gently pat or blot your skin dry so that some moisture remains on the skin surface. Immediately moisturize with a lotion or cream to help trap water in the surface cells.
- Choose fabrics that are kind to your skin. Generally speaking, natural fibers such as cotton and silk allow your skin to breathe. However, wool can be irritating.