Dry skin often itches, flakes or reddens. But it not only causes physical discomfort; it can be an emotional burden as well, since healthy rosy skin is considered part of the beauty ideal. A variety of different factors can create dry patches of skin: not only can they result from diseases, but certain lifestyle factors and incorrect skin care may also contribute to the problem. Read more about how dry skin develops and what you can do about it — how to take care of dry skin properly.
What is dry skin?
Dry skin has the following characteristics: itching, redness, scaliness, a feeling of tightness, and especial sensitivity to external influences. It also looks tired and ashen. Since dry skin becomes thinner than normal skin over time, it forms wrinkles more quickly as well.
Usually the skin does not become dry all over the body, only at certain places. The areas frequently affected include the face (such as the under-eye area) as well as the calves, hands, feet, lower arms and elbows.
How does dry skin develop?
Our skin serves as a barrier between the body and its environment. It protects us against external factors such as the weather or harmful substances, and it communicates information to us — for example, it lets us know when we are touching something. To perform its tasks properly, the skin has to have a properly balanced lipid and moisture level. If this equilibrium is disrupted, dry skin results. One possible outcome might then be that we injure ourselves more easily and micro-organisms can enter the skin more quickly, causing inflammation.
Dry skin: Diseases which trigger the problem
Dry skin may also occur as a side effect of various diseases, including:
But what disrupts the moisture-regulation process and the skin’s production of lipids and sebum that creates dry skin? The primary cause is aging. As we age, the lipid and moisture content of the skin declines dramatically. Hormonal changes play a part here as well: for example, women undergoing menopause often experience dry skin. But fundamentally there are people who are genetically predisposed to have dry skin faster than others.
Outside factors also play a part in dry skin, especially in winter. The reason? The switch between dry heated air and the cold weather outside have an impact on the skin. But irritating substances such as aggressive cleansers can trigger dry skin, as can excessive washing or physical hygiene. Last but not least, smoking and alcohol consumption can be underlying triggers as well. Stress has an effect on hormones and can “confuse” the moisture levels of the skin.
Certain medications can alter thyroid function or change the balance of fluids in the body, and dry skin can be one side effect. Examples of these medicines include diuretics (which help the body eliminate fluids), certain kinds of chemotherapy drugs or skin creams with cortisone.
Dry skin: What now?
Since external factors can affect dry skin as well, there are several steps you can take to improve the situation. You should take good care of whatever parts of the body have problems, such as the face, hands, legs, etc. There are special face creams designed to help with dry and flaky facial skin. The objective is to compensate for the loss of moisture and lipids and to improve the skin’s barrier function. Scientific studies have shown that certain substances in facial creams are effective in treating dry skin, such as urea, vitamin E, panthenol or St. John’s wort extract. This is also true of creams for dry skin that are formulated for other parts of the body.
Protect your dry skin against external irritants such as cold, heat, sunlight and chemicals. Tight-fitting clothing can also pose a problem for the skin, especially if you sweat heavily. Do not take long baths, and use only gentle and pH-neutral skin cleansers which protect the skin’s hydrolipid film.
Leading a healthy lifestyle can help fight dry skin. Important issues here are your diet and proper hydration: make sure you eat properly and drink enough water. Otherwise, your already-dry skin will continue to lose moisture, because having healthy skin depends upon the body being well-hydrated. Refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol, and avoid stress whenever you can.
Facts about allergic skin
are estimated to be affected by dry skin in Germany.
Source: Leitlinie der GD Gesellschaft für Dermopharmazie e.V., 2009
Source: Arch Dermatol. 1987 Dec;123(12):1638-43
Source: Caress et al., Envir. Health 3/2009; Thyssen et al. Br. J. Dermat. 160, 2009
Dry skin: When should you see a doctor?
Please consult a doctor if any of the following occur: your skin becomes dry very suddenly even though you have never had any such problems before; your skin starts getting dry after you start taking a new medication; your skin seems very red or inflamed; or if applying the right kind of care products does not improve the situation.
Additional symptoms such as hair loss, dramatic weight loss, strong feelings of thirst, headaches, dizziness, nausea or psychological problems can also be warning signs. If you experience any of these symptoms, make sure you talk to your physician.
Even if dry skin occurs in the course of another disease, it should still be treated. In such cases, however, additional care for dry skin can help combat the itching and sense of tightness.