Definition of Dry Skin
The skin is the essential covering for the body, offering physical, thermal and moisture protection against the environment. The skin weighs more than twice the weight of the brain; and during a normal year sheds 1.5 pounds (0.68 kilograms) of dead cells. Alternative names, for the skin, are “dermis” or “dermal.”
There are multiple layers to the skin, the outermost layer is called the “epidermis” from the Greek prefix, “epi” which means “upon.” It is also referred to as the “stratum corneum.” Just like a garden, the skin consists of an outer layer of dead or peeling skin, that has the same function as mulch, deflecting harmful ultraviolet rays, drastic temperature changes, retains moisture and provides water-proofing. When this outer layer is damaged, it can lead to dry skin: “Xerosis Cutis” or “Xeroderma.”
Healthy skin is smooth, pliable and soft, moisturized by natural, lipid oils that are secreted by the sebaceous glands; these prevent evaporation, dehydration, and heat loss. Below the dead skin cells are the living skin cells, which include sweat glands, nerve endings and hair follicles.
When the skin is not properly moisturized due to the malfunctioning of the “stratum corneum,” dry skin is the result. Dry skin starts to shrink, like clothes, leading to cracks and fissures. Extreme conditions include pus oozing and bleeding.
Symptoms of dry skin can include the following:
- Acne-like bumps
- Itchiness (Pruritus)
- “Parched” look
- Powder-like deposits
- Uncomfortable feeling.
A doctor should be called when the following serious conditions occur with the dry skin:
- Oozing pus
- Severe cracks.
Most normal, healthy, skin is protected by a thin, layer of oil to prevent damage to more sensitive areas below. The most common specific causes of dry skin are harsh, cleaning chemicals (soap and detergents) and environmental factors (humidity, sun, temperature, and wind.) Many chemicals in common cleaning products strip “lipids” (oils, fats and wax molecules) from the top skin layer, leaving more sensitive layers underneath vulnerable. Every day, the weather can cause dry skin; this can be counteracted with normal lubrication via oil, lotion and cream.
Specific causes of dry skin are numerous, including the following:
- Alcohol-based cleansers
- Dry heat
- Excessive washing
- Harsh chemical cleansers
- Heating systems – Fireplaces, furnaces, and heaters
- Malnutrition, a diet provides essential nutrients for skin growth, repair and recovery
- Medication treatments (like Antihistamines, Antispasmodics, Diuretics, and Retinoids)
- Sand, sun and wind
- Temporary, seasonal condition caused by low air humidity.
B.) General Categories
The following names some general dry skin causes:
- Diabetes – Poor glucose production leads to moisture evaporation
- Hodgkin’s Disease – Red, itchy patches
- Ringworm infection – Red, scaly, rash patches caused by fungus
- Sjogren’s Syndrome – Increases sensitivity to sunlight leading to burnt skin
- Thyroid conditions – Skin colour may change.
4.) Risk Factors
All people can develop dry skin, but some risk factors lead to more recurring dry skin.
Risk factors for dry skin include the following:
- Babies, children and women have more sensitive skin
- Dry, dusty summer beach conditions
- Dry, winter climate
- Hormone changes
- Living in unhygienic conditions
- Poor diet – Vitamins A, B, C, E and K are good for skin
- Rough clothing fabrics
Moisture levels change every day in the skin, thus, it is wise to have lubricating oils, lotions and creams in constant supply. Especially, after bathing it is wise to use lubrication to re-moisturize the body after soaps and body cleansers dry out the skin. People who are concerned with dry skin should avoid high-alkaline, high-alcohol soaps.
People with more sensitive skin should try milder soaps and body washes, with ultra-moisturizing qualities, like Dove, Neutrogena or Oil of Olay, to see which ones have the best chemical pH balance for helping them retain skin moisture. Saunas and warm moderate temperature bathing can help keep skin pores remain clean and healthy.
Moisturizers, like Eucerin and Cetaphil, are good at helping keep water inside the skin after bathing. Apply baby oil when skin is still moist; moisturizing lotion and an extra layer of cleansing cream can help skin during times when dehydration is an increased threat.
It is wise to keep lotion on-hand always, in case, conditions dry skin out, then you can replenish your skin’s moisture quickly. Dry skin can be a vicious cycle – once skin gets dry, it starts to crack, open skin leads to bleeding or infection – which makes it even more difficult to treat. During harsh seasons, it may be wise to control bathing; constant hand washing quickly strips the body of essential oils.
Avoid drying environmental conditions, like the sun’s ultra-violet (UV) rays. Experts have carefully studied the sun’s light, dividing its ultra-violet rays into smaller segments, like UVA, UVB and UVC:
- UVA – Remains the same strength year-round, can cut through outer epidermis to damage underlying dermis
- UVB – Intensity changes based on hemisphere and season, most sunblocks protect against
- UVC – Most dangerous, usually are absorbed by ozone layer.
Using sunblock (sunscreen) with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) over 15 can help protect against dangerous ultraviolet rays.
Laundry and Detergents
Using powerful detergent, chlorine chemical cleaning products can also dry skin quickly. Eco-friendly, neutral-pH products are best for washing; using protective, latex, rubber gloves while cleaning with harsh chemicals can also protect skin from dehydration. People should apply extra layers of lubrication before-and-after cleaning.
Those who suffer from dry skin must make sure that their towels, clothing and environment are particularly clean. A rough wash cloth can accumulate mold, mildew or dirt that might dry out the skin. Keeping the cleaning environment clean can help prevent dry skin.
Proper nutrition provides the basic vitamins, nutrients and minerals for nourishing the skin: Vitamins A, B, C, E and K are great for the skin. A good multivitamin can help prevent dry skin. Dietary supplements, like Omega-3, can help dry skin. Foods that are great for the skin include: cantaloupe, carrots, cheese, garlic, milk, nuts, onions, peaches, salmon, sardines, seeds, tuna and vegetables, yogurt, walnuts, and whole grains. Pure, extra virgin oils – coconut, olive and safflower – can also help prevent skin damage.
Stop engaging in negative behaviours that dry out the skin, like smoking, to prevent dry skin. Natural fibres, like cotton, can help the skin breathe better than artificial fabrics. A humidifier can also keep moisture in the air.
Test and Diagnosis Considerations
The most common tests for dry skin include 1.) “Skin Culture Swab” of the affected area searching for bacteria, fungus or yeast, or 2.) “Skin Lesion Biopsy” looking for serious conditions, like Eczema. These usually are conducted by a dermatologist who will also consider the patient’s family medical history and other risk factors.
Dermatologists will ask a series of questions in order to gather information that might reveal the source of your dry skin:
- When did you first notice your dry skin?
- Do you have a family history of dry skin?
- Which parts of your body are dry?
- What are your bathing habits?
- Are you taking any medication?
- Do you smoke?
Dry Skin Maladies
Different parts of the body can experience dry skin – face, ears, nose, hands and legs – that require different responses.
The following are the most serious dry skin maladies:
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) – This is a common dry skin condition leading to itchy, scales that could be fish-like and could be caused by food allergens. This occurs when skin cells fail to shed away properly; instead, the dry skin cells build up in polygonal shapes. These scales may turn different colours ranging from white to brown. Flaking, fissures and bleeding may occur. Lesions are also possible: “dry, scaly lesions,” “thick, chronic lesions,” and “weeping lesions.”
- Asteatotic Eczema (Eczema Craquele or Xerosis) is the abnormal drying of skin that may lead to cracked or fissured patches.
- Athlete’s Foot is a fungal infection of the foot that leads to dry flaking.
- Dermatitis is reddened round, scaly, skin.
- Ichthyosis Vulgaris sufferers experience fish-like scales on their skin.
- Keratosis Pilaris leads to small, hard, acne-like bumps within hair follicles. This condition may have some genetic characteristics.
- Nummular Eczema is allergy-related, with red, itchy, scaly lesions that have yellow crusts or pus due to oozing.
- Psoriasis is a chronic, recurring condition with red, scaly skin that might crack, ooze or bleed.
Herbal and Home Remedies
The most basic of all cures for dry skin includes drinking plenty of water. There are many homemade remedies for maintaining skin moisture, including the mixture of organic granulated sugar, honey and extra virgin olive oil. Another skin treatment mixture is made of eggs, honey, olive oil and rose water.
Natural oils – almond, avocado, bitter orange, lemon and lime – are good for treating dry skin. Crisco vegetable shortening can be used to treat dry skin.
Vitamins and mineral supplements can assist in curing dry skin:
- Gotu Kola
- Green tea
- Hyaluronic Acid
A milk bath is also a common home remedy to moisturize skin.
Holistic herbs for curing dry skin include these:
- Calendula flower
- Chamomille tea
- Comfrey plant
- Dandelion tea
- Lavendar oil
- Oat extract
- Peppermint tea
External creamy, moisturizing cleansers with glycerin or petrolatum, such as, Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash or Oil of Olay Sensitive Skin Soap are good for treating dry skin.
Follow this step-by-step procedure for using moisturizers after bathing:
1.) Moisten dry skin
2.) Let water soak in
3.) Pat water to retain moisture
4.) Add bath oils,
5.) Cover body with lotions or creams that aren’t washed off easily.
High moisturizing oils include Neutrogena Light Sesame Seed Oil, Hermal Body Oil, and Alpha-Keri Oil. Wonderful dry skin lotion moisturizers include Lubriderm, Keri and Nutriplus. Skin cleansers, like Cetaphil Lotion, Oilatum-AD and Aquanil are also effective. Great, hypoallergenic, cream, moisturizers for dry skin include Carmol, Cetaphil, Nivea, and Nutraderm.
Vaseline Petroleum Jelly is a good moisturizing ointment. Oral Antihistimines that might relieve dry skin include Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Hydroxyzine (Atarax), and Cetirizine (Zyrtec). Dry skin can lead to annoying itching; Anti-itch products containing Praxomine, Menthol, Camphor, Pramosone, Hydrocortisone, Triamcinolone, Clobetasol are safe to use for treatment.
A dermatologist might prescribe the following products for Dermatitis: an Immunomodulator, like Tacrolimus or Pimecrolimus. Antibiotics might be needed to treat bacterial infection from serious oozing lesions.
Common drugs for treating dry skin:
- Benzoyl Peroxide
When using a combination of Cortisone and moisturizer as a treatment; apply Cortisone first.
Eczema can be treated with moisturizing anti-itch oils, lotions, creams, topical Corticosteroids, along with a wet dressing for “weeping lesions.” “Thick, chronic lesions” can be treated with tar-based compounds and anti-inflammatory medicines to lubricate and soften the skin. Antihistamines might attack the allergic problems underlying the symptoms. Dermatologists might prescribe oral Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation or Topical Immunomodulators (TIMs) – Tacrolimus (Protopic) or Pimecrolimus (Elidel) – for hypersensitivity. A cold compress can reduce redness and itchiness.
Keratosis Pilaris has rough patches that can be treated with moisturizing lotions and creams, made of lactic acid, urea, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and tretonoin, for handling the itchiness. This condition will return if therapy regimen is not continued.
Surgery is an extreme response that isn’t usually used for dry skin problems.
Dry skin that continues as a problem can lead to the following side effects:
- Bacterial infection
- Lichenification (roughness)
- Mental distress
- Painful cracks
Most oils, lotions and creams are very effective at treating dry skin when combined with good diet, environment control and other pharmaceuticals, like Antibiotics, for extreme conditions, like pus oozing.
Most treatments are very affordable.