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Skin and Dry Skin Care: Moisture Is the Key

Updated on July 6, 2012

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.

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.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Brett.Tesol, your skin splitting open would definitely call for some attention to your skin. It sounds awful! Other that hot, desert areas, I've never given thought that parts of the world are that dry.

      Thanks for the read and the Share.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett C 

      8 years ago from Asia

      To be honest, I never really worried about this (typical guy). However, when I arrived in South Korea, all the skin on my legs and back began to actually split open (after years in a humid climate, I had entered -20c) ... it wasn't long before I started shopping for moisturizer.

      Shared, up and useful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      9 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thelma Alberts, thanks for your read and comment. I agree with you -- the weather is likely the culprit for your dryer skin in Europe.

      Thank you for SHARING.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      9 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alocsin, from what I understand, just about everything in the Pacific Northwest is moist!

      I'm happy to hear you found this information useful. Thank you for SHARING.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      9 years ago from Germany

      Thanks for sharing this useful information. I do have a dry skin when I am here in Europe but not when I´m in the Philippines. I´m sure that the reason for my dry skin in Europe is the weather. I´m always using moisturiser for my skin and drink a lot of water. Voted up and useful.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      9 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Dry skin is more of a problem here in Southern California, which is mostly desert, than it was in the Pacific Northwest, where high humidity kept the skin moist. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      9 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks for the read and the comment, princechammy. Staying well-hydrated is certainly important for skin to be healthy and resilient. Unfortunately, for some people just drinking enough water doesn't result in good skin. Those folks have to take additional steps.

    • princechammy profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines

      I drink lots of water to keep me hydrated, having a good skin will follow. This is very informative.

    • howcurecancer profile image


      10 years ago

      I am having hard time with my skin.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      10 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Glad you find the information useful, 6hotfingers.

    • 6hotfingers3 profile image


      10 years ago

      This is good and useful information for understanding what actually causes dry skin. Suggested remedies you provided took the article full circle. Great Hub!!!

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      10 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I agree with you, Shazwellyn. Not only does our skin look and feel better when it is soft and supple, but we are less likely to incur infections of the skin.

    • shazwellyn profile image


      10 years ago from Great Britain

      It is very important to keep your skin supple. Thanks for your recommendations.


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