What Is Dry Skin?

Dry Skin Care Questions
What Are The Signs Of Dry Skin?

Dry skin is medically called xerosis. Typically it occurs when there is a decrease in the amount of natural oils found in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) which causes the skin to lose water. If you have dry skin you may experience one or all of the following:

• Skin feels rough rather than smooth.
• Skin appears shrunken and dehydrated.
• Skin tightens after washing, especially after showers or swimming.
• Skin is itchy (pruritus), itching comes and goes.
• Skin flakes, peels or appears scaly.
• Skin is pale in color and dull.
• Fine lines appear prematurely around the eyes.
• Broken capillaries (tiny veins) can appear on the cheeks.
• The pores are very fine/small.

Tip: Still not sure if you have dry skin? Compare skin types: what is my skin type?

What Causes Dry Skin?

The complex factors that contribute to flaky, dry skin are only starting to be understood. Some relate to the environment, others are self-inflicted but in most cases it is probably down to genes. If your mother has dry, sensitive skin, you have a high risk of having it also. But even if you have inherited dry skin, it is still possible to improve your lot by avoiding some environmental triggers:

Environmental Factors

Weather: Dry skin worsens in the winter season when temperatures and humidity levels drop. Low humidity in particular makes itching worse by changing the fatty acid content of the skin. You should use a heavier moisturizer in the winter.
Water: Staying too long in water disrupts the ability of the skin to act as an effective barrier, so moisture is lost. If you really like swimming (and cholorine really dries the skin out), make sure you heavily moisturize after.
Your place of work: Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a combination of ailments that people develop simply from being in their place of work. Dry facial skin is a common symptom of SBS. According to the World Health Organization, up to 30 percent of new buildings may cause SBS in those who work in them. Most SBS cases are related to air circulation in the building. High ventilation flows, lack of in-room temperature controls and passive smoking are associated with higher incidences of SBS. The more time you spend in a 'sick building' the more likely you are to develop dry and itchy skin. One tip to reduce the effects of SBS is to leave a small bowel of water on your desk. It will gradually evaporate into the air, raising humidity levels.
Sun exposure: Like all forms of heat, the sun dries the skin. However the sun is even more potent. It's UV (ultraviolet) radiation penetrates the top layer of the skin (epidermis) burrowing deep into the dermis where it breaks down collagen and elastin fibers. This not only leads to dry skin, but also wrinkles and sagging.

Other Causes

Not eating the right foods: Foods rich in essential fatty acids (found in olive oil, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed) can help keep your cells hydrated.
Harsh soaps: Many popular soaps, deodorants and hair shampoos strip oils and water from your skin.
Atopic dermatitis: This is a common type of eczema which is sometimes confused with dry skin (although dry skin can lead to atopic dermatitis). Atopic dermatitis usually affects the face, sides of the neck, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.
Psoriasis: If your skin is particularly scaly, with buildups of dry rough patches of skin, you may have another condition called psoriasis.
Thyroid disease: Dry, rough skin may be a sign effect of hypothyroidism, a disease where the thyroid gland produces too few hormones.
Aging process: As we age the sebaceous glands (tiny oil production glands beneath the surface of the skin) produce less sebum (oil). Dry skin is often a natural part of the aging process.

Will Drinking Water Rehydrate My Skin?

Firstly, it should be pointed out there is a difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin. The first is due to lack of natural oil production to lubricate the skin and the latter is caused by lack of water. Drinking water will hydrate skin that is temporarily dehydrated, but it will do little to improve dry skin caused by lack of natural oils.

Next: What is the best treatment for dry skin?

• Need more information? See: Skin structure and function.
• Got another question? See: Skin Care Questions

Related Questions
What is oily skin? Signs and causes.
What is sensitive skin? Triggers that cause sensitivity.
What ingredients are in skin creams? Common ingredients found in cosmetics.

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