Skin Condition Series, Dry Skin
Dry skin is usually not serious; however, it can cause discomfort and look unsightly. Fortunately, majority of the dry skin results from environmental factors, which can be controlled at least partially.
What is Dry Skin?
An uncomfortable condition, dry skin is characterized by itching, scaling and cracking. It may occur due to various reasons. Your skin may be naturally dry. However, even if you have an oily skin, it can become dry at times.
Any part of the body can develop dry skin, but the main affected areas are the hands, legs and arms. In majority of the cases making changes in lifestyle and using OTC moisturizers may be all that you need to treat it.
Extremely dry skin is also medically termed as dermatitis. There are different kinds of dermatitis such as:
- Contact dermatitis (Irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis)
- Atopic dermatitis or eczema
What are the symptoms of Dry Skin?
Often dry skin is a temporary condition, for instance, it occurs in the winter season; however, it may be present for the entire life in some individuals. Symptoms and signs of dry skin depend upon your general health, age, the place where you live, the cause of the problem and the amount of time spent outdoors. One or more of the below mentioned symptoms may occur due to dry skin:
- A feeling of tightening of skin, particularly after bathing, showering or swimming
- Skin that looks and feels rough
- Pruritus or itching of the skin
- Mild to severe scaling, flaking or peeling of the skin
- Cracks or fine lines
- Ashy, gray appearing skin
- Redness of skin
- Deep cracks from which bleeding may occur
When should you see a dermatologist?
Majority of the cases of dryness of skin give a good response to home and lifestyle remedies. Visit your dermatologist if:
- There is no improvement in your skin in spite of your making your best efforts
- Redness accompanies dry skin
- Your sleep is interfered by itching and dryness of skin
- You have developed infection or open sores from scratching the skin
- You have developed large areas of peeling or scaling skin
What are the causes of Dry Skin?
Dry skin or xerosis is often caused due to environmental reasons. Your skin can also be significantly affected by certain diseases. Some of the potential causes that result in dry skin are:
Weather: Dry skin is worse in winters when humidity levels and temperatures plummet. However, if you reside in desert regions, the season may not matter much.
Heat: Humidity is reduced by space heaters, central heating, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves and this result in dry skin.
Hot showers and baths: Taking hot baths or showers, especially for long duration can cause dryness of your skin. Skin can also become dry by frequent swimming, especially in pools that are heavily chlorinated.
Harsh detergents and soaps: Many popular brands of soaps, shampoos and detergents may remove moisture from your skin because they contain chemicals to remove oil. This can make your skin dry.
Other conditions of the skin: Individuals suffering from other skin condition such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis are prone to develop dry skin.
What are the risk factors for developing dry skin?
Dry skin can occur in any person. However, you are prone to have the condition if you:
- Are greater than 40 years old. The risk of having dry skin increases with age-dry skin is present in more than 50% of the elderly.
- Reside in climates that are cold, dry or have low-humidity.
- Work in a profession that requires you to submerge your skin in water, such as hairstyling and nursing.
- Are a frequent swimmer, especially in chlorinated pools.
- Have a personal or family history of allergic contact dermatitis or other allergic diseases.
What are the lifestyle changes for improving dry skin?
By taking the below mentioned measures you can keep your skin healthy and moist:
Moisturize often: Moisturizers put a seal on your skin to prevent escape of water. Apply moisturizer quite often and especially after bathing. Opt for thicker moisturizers such as OTC brands Cetaphil and Eucerin.
Use cosmetics that have moisturizer as one of the ingredients. If you have an extremely dry skin, you can also apply oil such as baby oil on your damp skin. Oil stays for more time in comparison to moisturizers and do not let the water evaporate from the skin surface.
You can also use ointments containing petroleum jelly (Aquaphor, Vaseline). You may want to apply them only at night as they feel greasy.
Limit your bath time and use warm water: Hot water and long baths or showers strip oils from your skin. Limit your shower or bath time to 5-10 minutes and use warm water instead of hot water.
Avoid using drying, harsh soaps: It is recommended to use cleansing creams or gentle shower or bath gels and skin cleansers that have added moisturizers. Use mild soaps that contain added fats and oils. Avoid fragrance, deodorant, alcohol and antibacterial detergents.
Apply moisturizer immediately after taking a shower or bath: Do not dry your skin by rubbing with a towel, instead dry your skin by gently patting so that some moisture is retained. Apply moisturizer or oil or a cream on your already damp skin so as to trap water in the skin’s surface cells.
Use a humidifier: Dry, hot indoor air can parch your already sensitive skin and aggravate flaking and itching. Use a portable home humidifier to add moisture to the dry air inside your house. Ensure to clean your humidifier frequently to ward off fungi and bacteria.
Choose fabrics that are gentle to your skin: Use clothes made of natural fibres such as silk and cotton as they let your skin breathe. However, wool, though a natural fibre can irritate your skin.
Use detergents without perfumes or dyes to wash your clothes as these can cause irritation of your skin.
Remain hydrated: Drink adequate amount of water (at least 8-10 glasses) to remain hydrated throughout the day.
Avoid scrubbing or itching dry patches of skin as this will worsen the condition.
You can apply cool compresses to the area of dry skin that is itchy as this will help relieve the itching. To decrease inflammation, apply an OTC hydrocortisone ointment or cream, which contains at least 1% hydrocortisone. If your symptoms are not relieved by these measures or if there is worsening of your symptoms then consult your dermatologist.
Supplements for Dry Skin
Gamma-linolenic Acids: GLAs or gamma-linolenic acids are a type of essential fatty acids that help in the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone like compounds that support various functions of the body. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, these acids help maintain supple skin. They can be obtained from borage oil, evening primrose oil and black currant oil. They are also available as supplements. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, evening primrose oil has been found to be a safe and effective medicine in the management of atopic dermatitis, a condition characterized by dryness of skin. In an article published in the American journal of Clinical Nutrition administration of alpha-linolenic acid has been found to improve atopic dermatitis or eczema. According to another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, higher linoleic acid intakes were associated with a reduced likelihood of senile dryness.
Omega 3 fatty acids: There are 3 kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Alpha-linolenic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids decrease pain and swelling, thereby reducing inflammation. Omega oils also have a positive effect on the immune system of the body. Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained by intake of fish oil capsules or by eating fatty fish such as herring, wild salmon or sardines. They are also present in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, walnut and canola oil. Intake of omega-3 fatty acids is found to help relieve dry skin. According to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, fish consumption in infancy prevented the development of eczema, which is characterized by dry skin, in childhood.
Vitamin B6: A water-soluble vitamin, Vitamin B6 supports production of enzymes and metabolism and transport of oxygen through the whole body. According to the American Skin Association, sufficient intake of Vitamin B6 helps in the prevention of skin conditions such as those causing dry cracks around the mouth. In a study published in the biochemical Journal, it was found that rats that were deprived of Vitamin B6 and riboflavin developed a type of dermatitis, which was relieved when their diet was supplemented with the vitamins.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a type of fat soluble vitamin. There are 8 forms of Vitamin E: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant. It reduces oxidative stress by destroying free radicals, thereby, reducing cellular damage. According to a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology there is preliminary evidence that vitamin E is useful in the treatment of Atopic dermatitis; however, further trials are needed. According to another study published in the journal Experimental Dermatology, it was found that consumption of functional fermented milk containing borage oil, vitamin E and borage oil by females having dry and sensitive skin enhances skin barrier function.
Vitamin B2: Vitamin B2, also referred to as riboflavin is a water soluble vitamin. It is naturally found in foods including fortified cereals, milk, organ meats, yeast, mushrooms, oily fish, kale, cashews and egg yolks. It maintains the health of your body by acting as a powerful antioxidant. According to American Skin Association, it helps in the improvement of skin. In a study published in the biochemical Journal, it was found that rats that were deprived of Vitamin B6 and riboflavin developed a type of dermatitis, which was relieved when their diet was supplemented with the vitamins.
Vitamin C: Also referred to as Ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin. It is naturally found in many plant based food products such as mango, kale, carrots, strawberries, raspberries and cabbage. It has many vital roles to play in the human body. It is a potent antioxidant, which helps to destroy free radicals, reduce oxidative stress and maintain integrity of cells. It also helps to regenerate Vitamin E, which is another potent antioxidant. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, higher vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance and senile dryness in females.
Conclusion: Dry skin is usually not a serious condition; however, it can cause discomfort and look unsightly. There are many factors ranging from weather to some medical conditions such as dermatitis and psoriasis that can result in dry skin. By making simple changes in your lifestyle you can relieve symptoms of dry skin. There are various supplements including Omega oils, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, and vitamin E that you can take to relieve symptoms of dry skin.
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