Dry Skin – Causes, Prevention & Home Remedies
Dry Skin as the name suggests is a condition characterized by a lack of moisture or water content in the skin. The dry skin condition is more common in elderly people because they tend to loose skin oil and natural lubricants as they grow old.
Let us understand what dries up our skin or what causes this condition of dry skin. The epidermis is the outermost part of our skin that consists of a layer of lipid and proteins. This portion of lipid along with some epidermal proteins locks the skin moisture and prevents dehydration. When skin is deficient of this epidermal lipid and proteins the moisture of the skin evaporates easily. There are of several environmental factors that can cause this condition. Also, dry skin can be caused by our choices like using harsh soaps/detergents, etc. Simple actions like frequent handwash also may lead to dry skin.
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In medical terms, this condition is called as Xerosis. Usually, by itself, it is not a serious condition but it can be the reason for serious chronic diseases like Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema.) Dry Skin can cause a lot of discomforts, irritation, and stress.
Figure 1 Picture of Dry Skin (Xerosis)
Figure 2 Image of Ichthyosis
There are basically two types of causes for Dry skin External and Internal
- External Factors: Basically, those factors which are associated with the skin externally fall under this category. Weather conditions and other environmental factors are the big ones in this category. Cold and Low humid conditions, excessive washing of hands, using harsh soap are also major external causes.
- Internal Factors: These factors have nothing to do with the surroundings. They include factors such as age, family genetics, personal history, etc. Medications for certain diseases like hypertension, high cholesterol, etc may also lead to dry skin.
- Other factors: Certain professions and other habits may also cause this condition and are listed below
- Swimmers – swimming frequently in highly chlorinated pools will dry up your skin
- Certain jobs like nurses, hairdressers who frequently immerse hands in water, maids who scrub floors and wash clothes all the time.
- Not drinking an adequate amount of water leading to dehydration reduces water content in skin cells
- Using hot showers and warm baths. Hot water removes natural oils from the skin
The illness that may cause Dry Skin
- Ichthyosis – This is usually genetically inherited but get it in later stages of life. The word “Itchy” in Greek means fish, as the name suggests skin looks like fish scales
- Atopic dermatitis and eczema – This can occur in both children and adults. Even after it settles commonly after childhood, the dry skin will continue
- Psoriasis – This is a chronic skin disease which comes and goes in certain individuals with thick, scaly, silvery or reddish patches on the skin making it very dry.
- Thyroid disorders – Usually when the hormone – thyroxin level is low (Hypothyroidism) the skin becomes dry
- Nutritional imbalances – like Vitamin A, D, C, B, and minerals like Zinc, magnesium deficiencies will cause dry skin
- Certain cancers are associated with dry skin like skin cancers, or treatment for cancer per se can lead to dry skinPrevention of Dry skin
- Avoid washing skin all the time
- Avoid hot water baths
- Avoid strong soaps and detergents, hand sanitizers whenever possible
- Use gloves – Protects skin from losing natural oils by frequent washing and detergents
- Wear protective clothing when going out in the sun or cold windy weather
- If using heaters at home during winter, use a humidifier if possible to keep the air inside your home humid and moist.
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat fruits, nuts, vegetables, and green leaves
- Get a good night sleep and avoid stress
Your skin may be dry if you come across these symptoms
- The skin looks very dry and scaly
- Skin becomes rough and the same can be felt when touched
- The skin may start to itch and sometimes it worsens the condition giving rise to itch and scratch cycle
- Skin feels tight and very uncomfortable
- Scaling of the skin or peeling off, can appear like flakes
- Redness, soreness with the burning sensation
- Fine lines, and if worse may lead to cracks. If the cracks are deep it results in bleeding
- Dry Skin doesn’t have a healthy glow, may look greyish and dull
- Cracked lips – chapped or scaly
Home remedies and treatments for Dry skin
- Use mild body washes, mild soaps which are fragrant free or soap-free cleansers
There are soap substitutes like aqueous cream which has moisturizing and cleansing properties both.
- Moisturize your skin several times a day using a suitable moisturizing cream, lotion, hand creams, etc.
Once you have a bath apply moisturizer when the skin is still damp. It helps to keep skin soft and supple and better moisturized.
- Use cool water to bathe or shower
- Wipe skin softly or pat dry, do not rub
- Use cold compresses to soothe your skin if sore
- If the skin is very dry coconut oil or olive oil can be applied at night
- Over the counter, moisturizing agents like Vaseline or products which contain lactic acid or urea can be tried, as these ingredients help skin cells to hold water in.
- Use a lip balm containing petroleum or natural bee honey to moisturize lips to prevent drying and chapping
The dry skin condition can be temporary however sometimes complications can occur.
- Infections – when the skin is damaged due to scratching or cracking, bacteria can get in and cause infection. Skin will become red, sore, swollen or oozing with pus, etc.
- Bleeding and ulceration – If the cracks or fissures are deep
- If a person is prone to atopic dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis (even if it is previously controlled) dry skin will cause the disease to reactivate causing inflammation, itching, redness, and cracks.
Visiting a Physician
In the majority of cases, the skin responds well to home remedies and precautions. But in case the skin condition worsens do not hesitate to visit a physician especially:
- If dry skin is severe with redness, soreness, and cracks
- If it is uncomfortable and interferes with day to day activities and disturbs sleep
- When dry skin is widespread, scaly and peeling off
- If cracks are bleeding, the skin is infected and oozing with pus
- When there are systemic features like loss of weight, lethargy, cold intolerance, constipation which may point towards an underlying chronic disease
- After trying various home remedies but no improvement and worsen with time
In most severe cases your physician may refer you to the specialist/dermatologist. The dermatologist can assess how dry your skin is and prescribe moisturizing agents accordingly.
If associated eczema or atopic dermatitis is present, steroid creams will be added. If the skin is infected antibiotic creams or even oral antibiotics may be used depending on the severity of the infection.
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Sometimes if the doctor suspects vitamin and mineral deficiency a multivitamin may be prescribed for 3-6 months.
If the symptoms point towards a chronic illness further investigations are done and treatment and follow up will be planned accordingly.