Dry skin is skin that dries out when it lacks water and doesn’t hold sufficient moisture in it to keep it feeling soft. It then evolves rough and less flexible. To remain well hydrated, the skin needs a thin protective layer of fat on its surface, because fat slows down the evaporation of water.
Nearly everyone has patches of dry skin from time to time. With age, the skin tends to be drier because the sebaceous glands, which stimulate the fatty substance on the surface of the skin (sebum), are less active.
Dry skin makes wrinkles more apparent but does not affect their formation. The appearance of wrinkles is mostly influenced by age and heredity.
What causes dry skin?
In addition to age, dehydration of the skin depends on many factors:
- Baths in hot water and the frequent use of soaps, which removes some of the protective layers of fat on the surface of the skin;
- Exposure to wind and sun;
- Low ambient humidity, due to a cold, dry climate or residential heating.
The drier the ambient air, the more it absorbs the moisture released by the skin. This is why the skin is often drier in winter.
On the other hand, constantly dry or cracked skin, with redness and itching, can be a sign of skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis. Untreated hypothyroidism can also make the skin dry.
A protective layer to preserve
If we looked at the surface of our skin under a microscope, we would see a thin protective film made up of a mixture of oily substances and water. Fat comes mainly from sebum, produced by the sebaceous glands housed in the dermis (the inner layer of the skin, thicker than the epidermis).
Water is drawn from the sweat produced by the sweat glands, and from the water present in the atmosphere.
When this natural protective film is altered, the skin dries out, because the water present in the skin evaporates at an accelerated rate. The main role of moisturizing creams and lotions is precisely to recreate this protective barrier to allow the skin to retain its hydration and not to provide a source of water.
Note that the protective layer does not make the skin waterproof. The skin easily compares to the porous “high-tech” fabrics used for outdoor activities: it lets practically nothing penetrate it while allowing moisture to escape.
Some evaporation of the water contained in the skin should occur constantly in order to ensure, in particular, the maintenance of body temperature.
When to consult?
- If there is redness or a rash;
- If moisturizers and other skin protection measures do not solve the problem.
Dry Skin Symptoms
- A feeling of “tight” skin, especially after showering, bathing, or swimming, because dry skin loses its elasticity;
- Skin that is rougher than silky;
- Itches ;
- Fine cracks;
- Sometimes deeper cracks can bleed.
Some people are more at risk of developing dry skin. Also, risk factors favor its appearance, discover them here.
People at risk of dry skin
Skin can become dehydrated regardless of its original characteristics: thick or thin, sensitive or not, reactive or not. Even somebody with oily skin can have dry skin at certain times or in certain places on the body.
With age, the skin tends to be drier, especially in women. This tendency is often accentuated by menopause.
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Dry skin risk factors
Very cold temperatures
Indeed, the humidity is then rarer. Often, skin problems worsen during the winter.
A hot and dry climate
In desert regions where very high temperatures bring the humidity down to less than 10%, the skin can dry out quickly.
It is a source of heat and dries the skin. The more you expose yourself to it, the drier the skin. Sun damage is not limited to a drying out of the superficial layers of the skin. The sun’s rays (UVA and UVB) also contribute to the early aging of the skin by affecting its layout. They can also cause skin cancer.
Indeed, in winter, it reduces ambient humidity.
Hot water baths
In particular, if they are long and frequent. Hot water dissolves some of the fatty substances that are on the surface of the skin.
Insufficient water consumption or significant loss of water loss
This can occur, for example, as a result of severe diarrhea or intense and sustained physical exercise.
Due to its diuretic effect (increases water elimination).
- The wind ;
- Frequent skin contact with soaps, household cleaners, makeup, and perfume;
- Regular swimming sessions, especially in highly chlorinated water.
Some preventive measures can be put in place to prevent the appearance of dry skin.
The following measures can help maintain your skin moistly and healthy
Basic measures to prevent dry skin
Maintain a good humidity level in the house: bring a humidifier if necessary. Health Canada recommends a humidity level of around 50% in the summer, and 30% in the winter1. Humidity can be measured using a hygrometer.
Drink enough. It is usually recommended to drink about 8 glasses (2 liters) of water and various drinks (juices, broths, tea, coffee, etc.) each day. This recommendation is not based on precise scientific data, but it serves as a scale. Indeed, this quantity varies from one individual to another, according to activities and diet. For instance, people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables meet part of their water needs. According to most experts, this amount of fluid guarantees the body the hydration it needs for all its functions, including the maintenance of the skin.
Avoid consuming large amounts of caffeinated foods and beverages. An excess of caffeine increases the elimination of fluid through the urine. According to a summary of studies, you can still drink up to 4 cups of coffee a day without a diuretic effect8. On the other hand, above this quantity, the diuretic effect occurs. Of course, other sources of caffeine consumed during the day must also be taken into account: chocolate, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and coffee ice cream, which contain lower amounts.
Wear gloves outside in cold weather, and protect yourself from the sun, for example, by covering your skin with light clothing or by applying sunscreen.
For housework, use soaps that are not very drying (in cream, or cleaning oils) or wear rubber gloves.
To maintain healthy skin, it is generally advised to get enough sleep, not smoke, and manage stress well.
Moisturizers and perfumes
If necessary, regularly and generously apply a moisturizer all over the body (ideally, immediately after showering or bathing, to retain moisture). Apply a moisturizer to your hands several times a day; ideally, do it immediately after washing your hands.
Baths and showers
In case of dry skin, detour baths and showers with very hot water. Prefer lukewarm water and even a little cool. In periods of extreme cold, space out baths or showers. Limit the duration of baths to a maximum of fifteen minutes.
Adding oil to the bath water helps to less dry out the skin.
Do not soap the legs and arms unnecessarily. After washing, pat dry rather than rub.
Many soaps destroy the natural film of fat and water that covers the skin. Most antibacterial soaps and scented products also tend to dry out the skin due to the alcohol they contain.
Favor those that contain moisturizing substances, such as glycerin or shea butter.
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