The Surprising Reasons For Your Dry Skin
Why should skin become dry?
Dry skin is a common problem for many people - women, men and even children. There are numerous things that will cause our skin to dry out:
- Cold and/or windy weather - especially cold and dry winds with low humidity. This affects not only your face, but any area of your body leading to dry, itchy, cracked and tight skin. In turn this could lead to further skin problems or make an existing one much worse.
- Very dry weather and/or too much sun. These conditions can also strip the oils out of your skin leaving it dried out.
- Wearing clothing that causes sweating or irritations.
- Hormone changes - menopause, monthly cycle, pregnancy.
- Frequent long hot showers.
- The air in your home or workplace can also dry out your skin due to central heating or air conditioning.
However, that's not the end of the story. For many people who take care not to let their skin dry out, it can still be an on-going problem for them. First lets have a brief look at the skin and it's functions and then we'll go onto look for other possible causes of dry skin.
One of the main functions of the skin is to protect the underlying structures and systems of the body and as a barrier to pathogenic invasion. In order to do this properly the skin needs to be able to stretch and move in a fluid supple way. It does this by producing a thin layer of fatty substances that trap mositure keeping your skin supple and healthy.
The skin also:
- Acts as a regulator for body temperature
- Nerves in the skin allow us the sense of touch
- It is a complex organ containing hair follicles, blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands and oil glands.
Why dry skin may cause other health problems.
When the skin is severely dry, cracks become bigger allowing bacteria and other organisms to invade. Two of the most common ailments caused by dry skin are the inflammatory disorders cellulitis and dermatitis.
- Cellulitis - this is a bacterial infection of the deeper layers of skin - the dermis. It is frequently caused by group A streptococcus bacteria.
- Dermatitis - at a very basic level, dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin. However, the condition is much more complex than this. There are various forms of this ailment and it presents differently with each person. Therefore, treatment to help the condition can be difficult - what works for one person, has no effect on another. There are also numerous allergens that may cause a flare up.
1. The medical term for dry skin is 'xerosis'.
2. The skin is the body's largest organ. It weighs about 3.6 kilos and is around 22 square feet.
3. The skin is also capable of manufacturing vitamins. It makes vitamin D that helps to convert calcium into maintaining healthy bones.
4. The epidermis - the outer layer of skin - has special cells called Langerhans Cells - that alert the immune system when an invader is trying to get into the body.
5. The skin contains special glands called Apocrine glands that develop in puberty. They produce an attractive scent appealing to the opposite sex, however these glands are also responsible for producing body odour!
Uncommon reasons for dry skin
When skin is continually exposed to the elements and washed with soaps, chaffed with cold air, hot air and so on, the natural oils are stripped away continually and don't get a chance to replenish. This not only causes the skin to loose it's ability to retain water, but the cells within the skin begin to shrink, making the areas feel tight. With continual dehydration, the cells become brittle and unflexible, leading to cracks and rough patches. Anything that usually aggravates your skin such as soaps, detergents, fibres and so on, will be able to penetrate deeper into your skin due to the cracks. This causes more irritation and possibly inflammation or sensitive skin.
However, there are other reasons that can contribute to dry skin. Some of the less well known causes are:
- Not using skin moisturiser properly.
- Medical conditions
- Diet and nutrition
Most women do use moisturiser on a fairly regular basis. However, if used wrongly, it could add to the problems of dry skin. The main reason for this is because we apply moisturiser when it's least likely to help. Although moisturisers are an important part of skin health, they can also have the opposite effect if they are not used at the best time.
Many skin experts recommend putting on moisturiser while your skin is damp, not dry. As soon as you have used a cleanser, toner or when you have padded your skin lightly with a towel after washing, leave the skin damp, then put on moisturiser. The reason is that water is the only substance that can keep your skin hydrated. Skin products only help to keep natural moisture in our skin by acting as a barrier. When using moisturiser on damp skin this helps to lock in even more fluid.
- Ailments such as diabetes can make skin dry. This is due to fluctuations in glucose levels that leads to dehydration which will affect the skin. In addition, people with diabetes take much longer to heal, so it's important that they avoid dry, cracked skin that may lead to infection.
- Hypothyroidism can also lead to dry skin. Low levels of thyroid hormone means less oils are produced within the skin causing it to become dry. Using moisturiser in this case is unlikely to help - thyroid replacement is necessary.
If your diet is lacking in essential nutrients then this can lead to the skin becoming dry and itchy. In particular if you lack proper amounts of:
- Vitamin A - according to the World Health Organisation, half the countries in the world have a problem with vitamin A deficiencies. Naturally the majority are in the poorerst countries but not always. Many people in richer societies do have enough to eat, but if the diet is not nutritious and balanced then vitamin and mineral deficiencies will occur. One of the main symptoms of vitamin A deficiency is dry, scaly and thinning skin.
- Vitamin B2 - If this vitamin is lacking in the diet it can lead to extremely dry skin and sores. One of the main manifestations of dry skin with this deficiency is around the corners of the mouth. However, seborrheic dermatitis is also common with vitamin B2 deficiency. This form of dermatitis usually affects the face and scalp but other areas of the body can also show signs of this condition.
- Iodine - this chemical is essential for physical and mental development. One of the main signs of this deficiency is very dry skin along with depression, feeling cold, fatigue and many other symptoms.
There are some common medications that may cause drying out of the skin as a side effect. Drugs such as :
- Diuretics that are used for high blood pressure and heart related conditions. In addition some cholesterol reducing drugs can also cause dry skin. These medications tend to reduce the water content of the top layer of skin called the 'stratum corneum' so leading to dry areas.
- Some medications used to treat acne can also lead to drying out of the skin due to this medication's function of reducing the ability of the skin to produce oil.
- Some other medications such as anti-histamines can also cause drying of the skin.
- Although pain relief such as co-codamol are not thought to cause itchy skin, I can personally vouch for the fact that I did develop itchy skin with this medication. The itch disappeared as soon as I had stopped taking it. In addition, one of my brother's-in-law and a colleague also had the same reaction with co-codamol.
The list of medications that can cause problems with the skin is not exhaustive but these are some of the most common.
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How to help dry skin
There are a number of things that will help to prevent or assist with dry skin. The suggestions here have been chosen from a number of medical and dermatology sites.
- Taking lukewarm baths or showers instead of hot.
- Limiting your bath or shower to a maximum of 10 minutes
- After washing your hands or having your bath/shower apply moisturiser. Apply it gently. Being too rough can take the top layer of skin off leading to even more dry skin. In addition put moisturiser on when the skin is damp.
- When using a soap or shower/bath gel choose one that has a moisturiser in it. This needn't be the most expensive one either. I use a Boots brand that is very reasonably priced.
- From season to season vary your creams that you use. For example in the summer use lighter ones with sun screen. In the winter go for a heavier cream to give more of a barrier to the chaffing cold.
- Diet and nutrition is always important for health and your skin is no exception. We can use as many lotions and creams as we like, but it won't help if our diet is lacking in essential nutrients. Our skin needs to be looked after from the inside as well as on the outside.
- Exfoliate your skin on a regular basis. This removes dead cells, allowing moisturisers to penetrate better.
This is just an overview of what can cause dry skin. As mentioned previously, the skin is a very complex organ and there are a number of factors that will affect it. Therefore, when aiming to treat your own dry skin don't just look at one cause. Have a think about your lifestyle as a whole to see what other things may be causing your skin to become dry.
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