Dry skin is a very common and usually harmless skin ailment. While dry skin isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, it can be itchy and look flaky in the mirror. Here how to know what may be causing your dry skin so you can take measures to treat it.
Dryness isn’t the only symptom of dry skin. According to Michele Farber, MD a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, some other symptoms of dry skin are:
Additionally, you will usually be able to tell that the skin is dry by looking at it. The appearance of dry skin may be rough or scaly, and it might be peeling or flaky. This dryness may occur on the skin of specific body parts, such as the hands, or the dryness might be more widespread, most commonly on the extremities: your arms and legs, according to Farber.
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The causes of dry skin
There is a multitude of causes for dry skin that can depend on everything from the weather to your cleaning products.
Here are some common causes of dry skin:
Harsh soaps: Soaps are emulsifiers, designed to remove unwanted oils, grease, and dirt. “The skin has natural sebum or oil that helps retain moisture. When removing unwanted oil and dirt, soap does not distinguish between natural oil on the skin and unwanted excess oil, and can cause overdrying,” says Farber. Additionally, ingredients like sulfates or added fragrances in soap may be irritating and drying. According to Farber, harsh soaps can disrupt the skin barrier and make skin more susceptible to becoming dry. Even if you aren’t using harsh soap, the repeated act of lathering and rinsing can strip natural oils from your skin.
Hot water: While many people enjoy taking long hot showers or baths, the hot water can take a toll on the skin. Farber says hot showers are a big culprit. The hotter the water in the bath or shower, the harsher it will be on the skin, stripping it of the skin’s natural oils that keep it moisturized. She says hot water temperatures, usually above 105º Fahrenheit will cause irritation.
Chlorinated pools or hot tubs: Most pool and hot tub water contains chlorine to kill bacteria and other potentially harmful organisms in the water. However, this chlorine dries skin out and can further aggravate already irritated skin. Damage is double in a hot tub, since you also experience the drying effects of the hot water.
Winter weather: According to Farber, cold weather reduces humidity and pulls water from the skin. The combination of the cold air and low humidity leads to dry, dehydrated skin. This is common, and even has its own name. People call it the “winter itch.”
Heaters: Farber says that cranking up the heat can cause dry skin, adding even more to the damage of winter on skin. Regardless of if you are using central heat or space heaters, any type of heater will reduce the humidity in your home, which can suck the moisture out of your skin.
Pre-existing skin conditions: Your skin will be more sensitive to outside forces if you are already dealing with a skin condition. “Underlying skin conditions exacerbate this process because people are already more sensitive to outside irritation and the skin barrier does not function in the same way,” says Farber.
Risk factors for dry skin
According to Farber, some people are more prone to dry skin than others. Factors that can increase your risk include:
Age: The skin naturally will become dryer with age, Farber says. According to the Mayo Clinic, over 50% of older adults have dry skin.
Climate: If you live somewhere that has an extreme climate that is cold and dry most of the time, you’re at higher risk for dry skin.
Occupations involving chemicals and/or frequent washing: “Any occupation that exposes the skin to chemicals, frequent washing, or keeping skin in water for prolonged periods can cause chronic irritation,” says Farber. Some examples are healthcare workers, cleaning jobs, hair stylists, construction, and food industry workers.
Medications: Some blood pressure medicines and topical acne treatments can contribute to dry skin.
On top of this, dry skin might be a result of certain health conditions, Farber says. Even conditions that aren’t directly pertaining to the skin can affect it. Some examples are:
If your dry skin doesn’t get better with behavioral changes and moisturizers, you should make an appointment with a doctor to make sure it’s not something more serious.