What Are the Top Causes of Dry Skin?

Dry skin, also known as xerosis, has often been an irritating, nuisance for many. At times, the skin may not only look dull, it may also feel rough and itching, which would make you self-conscious and miserable. Some people also find it difficult to sleep during night due to the constant itchiness.

Barney Kenet, MD, who works as a dermatologist at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center says that dry skin is a common problem – the vast number of around100 million of people suffering from it would testify to it.

But dry skin can also lead to more serious problems. In fact, as the skin forms the uppermost layer of our body, it is the first defense against any infection.  Claude Burton MD, professor of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine reveals that the cracks formed on the dry skin can form the avenues for the harmful bacteria.

The dry skin condition has a direct bearing on our physical as well mental disposition. Hence, you should take good care of your skin to safeguard your appearance, mental state and overall health.

Dry skin can be due to various reasons like harsh soap, unsuitable clothing and moisturizer, bathing in hot and cold water and some medications. Other pathological reasons include diabetes, malnutrition, hypothyroidism, psoriasis. Let’s discuss them in details.

Knowing your skin

Knowing your skin is the first step to alleviate the dry skin problem. The skin has a coating of natural lipids or fat that keeps the skin soft by providing moisture. At times, both due to inherent health and external condition, the skin becomes bereft of it – thus exposing it to bacterial attacks.

Although the problem of dry skin may crop on any part of the body, generally the hands, abdomen and legs are most susceptible to such attacks. Although this can’t be observed by other people, it can also have a disconcerting effect on the looks of some people. Vesna Petronic-Rosic, MD, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Dermatology Outpatient Clinic at the University of Chicago Medical School says that the African-American people, particularly suffer due this problem, as their skin looks flaky with shades of gray or even ‘ashy’. Such noticeable manifestations are really embarrassing for the people.

Left untreated, the dry skin can result in dermatitis, a condition, where there is inflammation, swelling and infection in the skin. But fortunately, the dry skin can be effectively treated with proper skin care and external treatment. Let’s find out the ways and means to avert the dry skin problems arising due to the following reasons:

Moisturizer

Use of moisturizer for dry skin is common practice. That is the first thing anybody, who suffers from dry skin does. Some people also try many different moisturizers, in order to get rid of the condition.

But, although moisturizer forms one of the important ways to combat dry skin problem, people often are not aware of the proper way to use it. Using the moisturizer, when the skin is already dry doesn’t help. Kenet, who has written an enlightening book ‘How to Wash Your Face’ says that the moisturizer should be used when the skin is still little bit damp. You don’t have to apply it, when you are still dripping with water. Just rub a towel lightly over your body and apply the moisturizer. This would allow the skin to retain the moisture.

Choosing the right moisture is also important. For people who have a dry skin, mild moisturizer, sans any perfume are the best. It should also be thick and oily to protect the skin. According to Kenet, the cheap moisturizers that one finds in the drugstores may even be better than the costly ones.

Petronic-Rosic recommends an elementary test in this regard. Just pour little bit of it on the palm and turn your hand down and see if it drips down. If it does, then it is not thick enough and hence is not suitable.

Dry Air

Exposure to dry air forms the most common reasons of a dry skin, as it saps up the moisture from your skin directly. This condition even gets accentuated during winter as the cold air dries up the skin. But due to the heat out of the furnace during winter or the effect of air-conditioner during summer, your skin dries up. In order to alleviate this problem, you may use moisturizer and cover all your body parts with scarves, gloves and hats and even knee-length socks as cold set underneath your pant legs. You may also keep down the level of your thermostat or may use a humidifier in the room.

The long hot showers you have

Spending a long time under the shower or indulging in heavy baths, washes away the oil from your skin. A feeling of tightness in the skin is the manifestation of such conditions. This is more so in case of exposure to hot water.

How can you prevent it? The dermatologists advise that it is better have showers in stead of baths – and that too, for few minutes.

Keneth recommends that tepid water should be used in stead of hot water to shower. It is also better not expose your body and skin directly to the shower, while shaving or soaping, as this would minimize your exposure to the water. Application of moisturizer should be done immediately after the shower.

The soaps you use

Soap is regarded the main culprit by many experts, as far as the problem of dry skin is concerned. It saps off the natural oil protecting the skin. Petronic-Rosic says in this regard, “People have this urge to scrub all over their body with soap and water even if they are not dirty.”

It has been the age-old advice of our mothers and doctors to wash the hands always to keep them free from germs. But too much washing may, in fact, result in infection as the skin gets chapped. Hence, washing the face, hands, feet, groin and underarms are the only area of the child that necessitates washing with soap and water.

Choosing the right kind of soap is also of paramount importance. “Often, people choose a harsh soap for the sake of leather and supposedly a pristine clean skin. But they ultimately end up with a dry skin, as the leather washes away all the oil from the skin,” opines Petronic-Rosic.

Experts recommend a mild, fragrance-free soap for the dry skin problem. A non-soap skin cleanser may even be a better idea.

Even the use of harsh implements like sponges or brushes to rub your skin may damage and dry up your skin. It is also better to avoid sanding the skin.

The clothes you wear

Uncomfortable clothing can also result in itching and a dry skin. About this, Keneth says, “If the cloth you wear feels itchy, it is better to discard it since it would get itchier, as you continue wearing it.”

Petronic-Rosic advises that one should go with clothes that feel comfortable, when you wear it for the first time. And it is better to switch over to some other fabric, if does not feel comfortable. Cotton is generally regarded as the most suitable fabric.

Medicines and Drugs

Dry skin condition may be an offshoot of the reaction of some medicines and drugs, which include:

  • Drugs for hypertension like diuretics
  • Antihistamines
  • Renitoids used for acne and pimples
  • In case of any side effects, the doctor should be immediately consulted, who would change the dose or prescribe other medicines.

Pathological Conditions

Although external conditions are usually responsible for the dry skin conditions, sometimes, it can also be due to certain illness. Physiological changes also leads to dry skin. People, especially women, develop dry skin as they get older.

“More than three-fourth of people over the age of 64, develop dry skin, which is due to the changes in the hormonal level. It can also be genetically related,” says Petronic-Rosic.

Generally, dry skin may result due to the following medical reasons:

  • Skin ailments like eczema and psoriasis. It usually needs a direct application of medicine but use of moisturizer also heals it.
  • Diabetes – People having diabetes often develop dry skin as they get dehydrated due to the fluctuation of the glucose level in their body. Diabetes also increases the chances of infection, while slowing down the process of healing. So, it is imperative that people with diabetes, should keep their skin healthy.
  • Hypothyroidism – The production of oil by the skin wanes with the lowering of the level of thyroid hormone in the body. Hence, under such condition, the skin dries out and application of moisturizer doesn’t help.
  • Malnutrition – A healthy skin needs many important nutrients. So, an imbalanced diet may also lead to a dry skin.
  • How to alleviate the problems of dry skin

Frankly speaking, the problem of dry skin condition, however, irritating it might be, is actually a minor one. So, do not get into the notion that something is seriously wrong in your skin or body. Your doctor should be able to ascertain the reasons and would prescribe the necessary treatment, which might include some antihistamine and steroid creams or lotions. So, seek the help of your doctor immediately.

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