It can be tricky sometimes to figure out what is causing dry skin. Here are some common causes and even a few surprising factors.
How can I hydrate my skin naturally?
There are several things which can not only naturally hydrate dry skin topically, but also hydrate it from the inside out, including sunflower oil, water, omega 3, lanolin and coconut oil.
Natural dry skin hydrators
I'm a firm believer in keeping skincare simple. I like the notion of extending my 'capsule wardrobe' philosophy to the bathroom, and want to stick to a few really good basics. My health science studies have been handy in this regard - it's lovely to be able to wade past the multi-billion, over-marketed beauty industry and focus on good science!
There are several things which my research indicates can effectively and quickly hydrate dry skin naturally. So, let's take a look at some of these:
1. Sunflower Oil
This doesn't sound like a very glamorous beauty oil, but let me stress - I am not recommending that you slather yourself in the cheap, refined stuff that your mam cooks chips in! A good quality cold-pressed sunflower oil is rich in linoleic acid and this is a vital component in our skin's natural barrier. Sunflower oil used topically has been shown to improve skin hydration without causing any redness or inflammation. It may also improve skin barrier repair, which weakens as we age(1). Sunflower oil is a great carrier if you fancy making your own dry-skin body oil. Simply add 5-15 drops of essential oil (like lavender or soothing chamomile?) to every 10 mls of sunflower oil. If you want something a little richer, you can use a natural ready-made product that contains sunflower oil, like Bioforce Cream.
Oil shopping glossary
Refined oil can be extracted using heat or chemicals which may damage the fat molecules
Virgin oil is extracted as a cold press which protects the oil from damage
Extra Virgin usually means cold-pressed and premium quality
Organic means that the food is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides
The water we drink is supplied to each cell in the body via digestive system absorption and then through our blood vessels. Technically, the very outer layer of our skin has no direct blood supply so shouldn't be influenced by the water we drink. There is, however, compelling evidence that shows that correcting a water deficiency will positively influence skin hydration. Link to 'Will drinking water help dry skin?' It may not be the magic bullet for everyone's dry skin but it may help, and it's free. Another way that water can help is external. Use a witch hazel or rose water spritz. It's easily absorbed by the stratum corneum (the very top layer of the epidermis). Moisturiser will then seal moisturise in, stop it from evaporating. Alternatively, you can simply apply creams and balms within 2-3 minutes of washing.
Witch hazel has many useful benefits for red, irritated or inflamed skin. Its action is toning, astringent and protective(2).
My Top Tip: Use it as a base cream for with an essential oil
Flax Oil can improve skin barrier function, inhibiting trans-epidermal water loss (evaporation from that top layer of skin) One study noted that it reduced skin sensitivity, as well as roughness or scaling, over 12 weeks(3). Flax Oil (linseed) is a rich source of Omega 3, linked to improvements in the symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and dermatitis. It's also been found to help with UV sun damage and hyperpigmentation(4). Flax Oil or flaxseeds are really easy to add to the diet. I like to add the oil to smoothies to give a rich creaminess. Alternatively, soak the seeds overnight and add them to porridge or yoghurt. Chia seed has a very similar nutritional profile to flax.
Essential Fatty acids are aptly named - they are essential because we can't make them, we need to add them to our diet.
Omega 3 is made up of EPA and DHA. Good sources are good quality oily fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel.
Omega 6 is rich in linoleic acid that our body converts to GLA (gamma-linoleic acid). Good sources are sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, eggs and walnuts.
The skin needs to be waterproof, to keep us from leaking obviously, but also to protect the integrity of the skin's surface. Oily substances that form this protective barrier are made from sebum (released by oil ducts in the skin) and a natural moisturising factor made by skin cells. Lanolin is a mix of fatty acids, cholesterol and other compounds that are very like our own skin's protective oils. It has excellent waterproof, almost waxy, properties that are useful in lip balms and all-purpose creams. It's a very good alternative to petroleum-based emollient products that smooth the skin, like Vaseline. Lanolin is an excellent treatment for moderate to severely dry skin (xerosis)(5).
5. Coconut Oil
This is another beneficial skin ingredient useful for eczema and dermatitis sufferers. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can improve skin barrier function(6). I keep a jar of this in the bathroom to use as a body and hair oil and another in the kitchen as a cooking oil. It smells wonderful, like a tropical paradise.
Learning how to hydrate skin naturally is one piece of the puzzle, finding out why skin become dry in the first place is another. You can find out more by reading my article, 'Why is my skin so dry?'