The skin is the largest organ of the human body and the organ that takes the roughest treatment. It is comprised of layers, with the outer layer being dead skin cells that are cast-off and replaced all the time and the inner (the working layer), containing blood supply, nerves, hairs follicles and glands that produce oil called sebum, which exists to prevent the skin from drying out.
Signs and Symptoms
Dry skin is most commonly found on the face, hands, arms, legs and sides of the torso. It can start by feeling rough and itchy, leading to flaking of the skin, feeling scaly and may even develop into cracks and sores that bleed and are very painful.
Why Does Skin Become Dry?
There are many reasons why the skin may become dry, most of the time it is due to environmental factors. Exposure to the sun can cause the deeper layers of the skin to become damaged and the layers to the top to become dehydrated. However, it is more common to experience dry skin in the winter months when humidity is low and there is increased use of heating devices that dry the cells.
Bathing, although good for removing grime, dead cells and dirty oil secretions, can be harmful to skin if excessive or if the water is too hot. Bathing too frequently can remove the necessary oils from the skin, and overly heated water can disturb the biological make up of the skin, causing disruptions in its normal balance.
Soaps and skin products that are heavily coloured, fragranced or contain alcohol should be avoided as these can dry the skin and cause irritation and inflammation due to the chemical content.
Occasionally dry skin can be the result of an allergy, a side-effect of medications, especially diuretics (water tablets), an inherited condition such as ichthyosis (a rare genetic skin disease), or because of other skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis.
Age is another factor that can cause dry skin as the cells lose moisture over the years and sebum production is slowed.
Treating Dry Skin
Try changing the washing powder or detergent used along with your cleansing agents used when bathing as these may be the cause of the dry skin.
The use of a moisturiser should help the cells of the skin become re-hydrated, if this is not sufficient, ask the advice of a pharmacist who will have knowledge on the products they stock and can help select an appropriate lotion or emollient. If these methods do not help to eliminate the problem, see your GP who will assess your complaint and may offer a medication that is only available on prescription such as a steroidal preparation; these can only offer temporary relief. Your GP may refer you to a skin specialist called a dermatologist who is an expert in skin care and can perform several tests to determine the reason for the problem.
Preventing Dry Skin
After bathing it is important to pat skin dry, not rub it as this can irritate the skin and cause flaking. The use of a good, thick, unscented moisturiser should be encouraged after bathing or even daily in the winter months or in hot climates.
Drinking plenty of water will help the cells of your body remain hydrated, lessening the risk of drying-out.
The use of a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15 is recommended when in the summer months, as harmful rays from the sun can damage the layers of the skin altering its function, and the heat from the sun can cause the cells to dehydrate.
Dry skin is a very common condition that affects many people. By understanding the issues surrounding the causes of dry skin, people become more aware of the need to prevent it or stop it from deteriorating.