A lack of sufficient moisture from the outer layer of the skin (stratum corneum) contributes to dry skin. This can happen for a few reasons.
- When your oil glands don’t produce enough sebum.
- Something is interrupting the creation of the structural lipids from the epidermis.
Both sebum and lipids are crucial to the skin’s barrier function. They keep skin feeling moist, elastic, and protected from disease. When either or both of these skin components are insufficient, the skin will feel tight, dry, and look rancid. Dry skin can be more brittle than other skin types. As a result of its’ compromised barrier function, dry skin is open to more inflammation and more vulnerable to irritants.
So what brings about dry, scaly skin?
- Inherited factors
- Natural skin aging that reduces sebum and lipid production
- Over washing skin
- Harsh soaps
- Bathing in hot water
- Low humidity – cold weather
- Wind exposure
- Certain chemicals
- Diuretic medications
- Skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis
- An underactive thyroid gland
- Any mix of the aforementioned factors
To help dry skin, you should first attempt to keep as much of your natural oils as you can.
- Just washing skin once a day (can perform twice a day for face if not overly drying)
- Bathe in lukewarm (never hot) water
- Use gentle cleansers made for dry skin (prevent antibacterial & deodorant soaps)
- Avoid any cleansing product that “foams” when used
- Avoid products with acetone or alcohol
- If you live in a dry environment, try a humidifier and home plants
- Limit wind exposure when skin is feeling dry
Then add moisture to the skin with products which contain humectants and occlusives. Humectants help add water into the stratum corneum in the dermis and the air. Occlusives offer a coating of oil on the skin that reduces the skin’s water loss from evaporation. Lessening evaporation helps to raise the moisture content in the stratum corneum.
To add moisture back into your skin:
- Choose products with humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, urea, alpha hydroxy acids.
- Choose products with occlusives like castor oil, mineral oil, soybean oil, stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, lanolin acid, squalene, dimethicone, petrolatum, & olive oil.
If your skin isn’t sensitive, just dry, then using a moisturizer with an alpha lipoic acid like lactic or glycolic acid is a fantastic choice. These acids not only work to moisturize; but also exfoliate the scaly skin cells. Oil-based AHA creams are more useful than water-based since they maintain the moisture stored in the epidermis. The option of an occlusive moisturizer depends upon what depth you’ll have to see results.
Lotions are the lightest weight. Lotion thickness is great for moderate skin dryness, hairy regions of skin, and if you want something lighter for your face.
Creams are the center weight in regards to occlusive moisturizers. They’re great more intense dryness providing a thicker barrier to the skin.
Ointments are the most occlusive.
Ointments are great for skin dryness – the regions of skin which are very dried, thicker and very scaly. Most people will not like using an ointment throughout the day, so to your poor spots, just use during the night. Try a lotion for day use. Or you might try a bath oil that will leave a thin coating of oil in your skin as you leave the tub.
Dietary changes may also help with dry skin. Eating foods rich in healthy fats called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) can improve dry skin. Foods high in EFA’s include fresh tuna, salmon, flaxseed oil, fats from plants such as seeds, nuts, canola, sunflower, soybean, avocado, olives, and safflower oil. These good fats also increase the level of good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. However, there are just two bad plant fats to prevent – palm kernel and coconut oil.
A note of caution – don’t over eat fats to attempt and improve dry skin. Eating the products fats in moderation will be sufficient to help.