Ordinary dry skin (xerosis) is not a serious problem, but it can be uncomfortable, unsightly and itchy, turning plump healthy appearing cells into shriveled and dehydrated looking ones and thus creating fine lines and wrinkles. More serious dry skin conditions, such as the inherited group of disorders called ichthyosis, can sometimes be disfiguring enough to cause psychological distress.
Fortunately, most dry skin results from environmental factors that can be wholly or partially controlled. These include exposure to hot or cold weather with low humidity levels, long-term use of air conditioning or central heating, and excessive bathing, using soap and shampoos.
Chronic or severe dry skin problems may require a dermatologist’s evaluation. However, you can do a lot on your own to improve your skin, including using moisturizers, bathing less and avoiding harsh, drying soaps and wear protective coverings in harsher climates.
The cause of dry skin may be both genetic and environmental, but the common physiochemical basis is a disrupted epidermal barrier function. The skin is not producing the structural lipids responsible for preventing water loss and protecting skin from foreign substances.
The feeling of tightness, especially after showering, bathing or swimming is usually a sign of excessive dryness. Skin that feels and looks rough rather than smooth, is itchy (pruritus), flakes or if you notice scaling or peeling, fine lines or cracks, also redness and, in advanced stages, deep fissures which may even bleed.
Dry Skin vs. Eczema
Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is an allergic skin condition. It is hereditary and is often associated with food allergies, asthma and/or allergic rhinitis. Eczema can affect all age groups, but is most often seen in young children. In young children, it looks like a red, itchy, scaly rash. It is patchy and starts out as flaky or scaly dry skin on top of reddened, inflamed skin. The rash will itch or burn. If it is scratched, it may ooze and become crusty, especially in young children. Painful cracks can develop over time.
The rash most often affects the face, wrists, inside of the elbows, on the backs of the knees and outer thighs, usually where bends in the extremities occur. The severity of the disease can vary from person to person. In mild forms the skin is dry, hot and itchy, while in more severe forms the skin can become broken, raw and bleeding. Although it can sometimes look unpleasant, eczema is not contagious.
Key Ingredients in Skin Products
Key ingredients include those which mimic the structural epidermal barrier lipids such as ceramides, cholesterol, essential fatty acids (linolenic and linoleic acids). This lipids help reduce trans-epidermal water loss, which is the leading cause of skin dryness. Further, ingredients that attract water to the skin (humectants) especially under high relative humidity, i.e. glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA and panthenol (vitamin B5) are extremely helpful at alleviating skin dryness.
Utra-Violet Rays (“UVRs”) are present throughout the year, irrespective of the season. For every 1000 feet increase in elevation, UVRs’ intensity increases approximately by 5%. UVRs are reflected and magnified by snow and other smooth surfaces, therefore one must take extra precaution during winter trips to ski resorts.
UVA is also present throughout the year and day. UVA is the longest wavelength of URV and can easily penetrate clouds, lighter color and loosely woven fabrics. The UVA wavelength is primarily responsible for collagen and elastin damage (photodamage) in the deeper dermal tissue. Therefore it is critical to apply at least SPF 30 broad spectrum UVA-UVB sunscreen daily and throughout the year.
Over exfoliation can cause more barrier disruption, which will exacerbate dry skin. The upper layer of skin cells (corneocytes of the stratum corneum) help to keep water within the superficial and deeper skin layers and also keep foreign substances from getting into the skin.
Water is essential for proper body function. Drinking eight glasses a day is recommended as guidance for most healthy individuals. Listen to your body. If you are thirsty, drink.
Dry skin is caused, in part by epidermal barrier disruption. Fat soluble vitamins, especially A, E and D groups, preserve your skin. However, be careful not to overdose – usually 2-3 times a week a small capsule is more than enough, especially if you do not suffer from malnutrition and have diet rich enough in vegetables.
Finally, prefer water-rich fruit and vegetables to water-based juices and lemonades. Water from fruit and vegetables absorbs into the body slowly, keeping you – and your skin – fresh for much longer than a drink ever could.