- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Skin and Dry Skin Care: Moisture Is the Key
Understanding Your Skin
The skin is the largest single organ of the body, accounting for 1.75 m2 of surface area. For the most part, the skin is self-sufficient in maintaining its integrity throughout its top five layers, termed the epidermis. The outermost skin layer, the one you see, is made of flat dead cells that are attached to one another to form a keratin layer mixed with various lipids (fats). This skin layer functions to maintain pliability, hydration and provide a protective barrier.
Fifteen thin layers comprise the stratum corneum, that outermost skin layer. A new layer is formed approximately each day, with all 15 layers replaced every two weeks.
Caring for the organ that protects you, no matter what season of the year, requires a combination of balanced nutrition, adequate hydration, good hygiene and application of sunscreens and emollients or moisturizers as needed.
Maintaining Skin's Moisture is Key
To ensure your skin's outermost layer can perform its important functions, your first line of defense is obtaining adequate, balanced nutrition on a daily basis. It's important not to remove all the fat intake from your diet for various health reasons, but for your skin's sake, a low fat intake is needed. The fats are broken down into various lipids by your body; these lipids are the "glue" that cement the outer layers of skin cells together.
Drinking adequate fluids daily is also an important to maintain skin integrity and suppleness. Water is needed by the entire body; your skin is no different. Eight to ten glasses of water daily has long been recommended by health care professionals.
Hand washing, oft-cited as the single most important factor in preventing the spread of infection, can dry hands out, especially if strong soaps are used or inadequate drying of the skin is done. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that alcohol-based hand washing agents aid in the both the reduction of microorganisms on the hands and potentially decreases damage to your skin from the detergents in soaps and friction from drying hands with towels.
Over-doing hand washing to the point that the skin becomes damaged needs to be weighed against skin damage in the form of dryness or irritation. Use moisturizing lotions or creams to help prevent these issues.
A dry environment in your home or workplace may also contribute to dry skin, especially in the cold weather months when the heat is on. While you likely have little control over the humidity in your workplace, at home you can use a humidifier to add needed moisture to the air. Alternatives to a humidifier include placing a pot of water on the stove and slowly simmering it, allowing the water to evaporate. Those with radiator heat can place a pot of water on the radiator for the same effect.
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- Emollients and moisturizers (moisturisers). DermNet NZ
Emollients and moisturizers (moisturisers). Authoritative facts about the skin from the New Zealand Dermatological Society.
- Role of topical emollients and moisturizers in the... [Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003] - PubMed result
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that includes over 19 million citations from MEDLINE and other life science journals for biomedical articles back to the 1950s.
Oil, Lotion, Cream or Ointment?
Moisturizers, also called emollients, provide moisture to the skin, protect against moisture loss, and some provide lipids through added fats. Generally a moisturizer is either absorbed into the skin or disappears from the skin surface through evaporation, skin sloughing or hand washing or other contact with various materials. Some moisturizers also contain ingredients that absorbed through the skin such as antioxidants and emulsifiers.
The American Journal of Clinical Dermatology reports that the effects of antioxidants, emulsifiers and preservatives in skin care products may well have more of an impact on skin health than previously thought. Products containing petrolatum provide immediate barrier-protection ability to skin that lacks lipids. Skin care products containing urea have been shown to lessen irritation associated with sodium laurilsulfate, a frequent ingredient in such products.
Skin moisturizers provide two important functions: occluding moisture from leaving the skin's surface and ingredients that increase the skin's ability to hold moisture, called humectants. Many products combine these two functions, while others perform only one function. Occlusive moisturizers contain oils of non-human origin such as shea, coconut or cocoa butter. Humectants include glycerin, alpha hydroxy acids and urea.
In deciding what type of moisturizing product to use, you may want to consider the amount of dryness of your skin and exposure to potentially skin drying conditions. Body oils provide the lightest occlusive skin barrier; lotions slightly more; creams more than lotions and ointments provide the highest level of occlusion.
DermNet NZ suggests that lotions are appropriate for use on the scalp, other body areas with hair and mild dryness of skin on face, limbs or truck. Creams can be used in the same areas when more moisturizing is desired. Ointments are suggested for use on very dry or scaly skin and may be used any time of day, but many people prefer to use them overnight due to the increased greasiness.
When Dry Skin Is More than Just Dry Skin
Scaling, itchy or reddened skin that doesn't respond to use of over-the-counter moisturizers may be signs of a chronic skin condition that requires treatment by a health care professional. People who take diuretics (water pills) may be prone to dry skin. An underactive thyroid gland may cause thickening and drying of skin.
If you've been trying unsuccessfully to treat a dry skin condition, consult your health care provider.