It can be tricky sometimes to figure out what is causing dry skin. In this article, I take a look at some common causes and even a few surprising factors, which according to skincare experts could be why your skin is so dry.
It can be tricky sometimes to figure out what is causing dry skin. Here are some common causes and even a few surprising factors.
Why is my skin so dry?
According to scientific studies and dermatologists, there are some common reasons why skin can become dry including over-washing, dehydration, medication, and the weather, as well as using certain soaps, detergents and skincare products. Other factors such as age, obesity, poor health and genetics can also cause dry skin.
Causes of dry skin
So, let's take a closer look at some common reasons behind your dry skin problems and what you can do to help yourself.
The epidermis absorbs water from the atmosphere to help balance its moisture levels. Too much water, especially if it's very hot, can break down the skin's natural moisturising barrier, which is made of layers of skin cells packed together with sebum from the skin's oil glands, and lipids secreted by keratinocytes (skin cells). Keep the baths and showers to under 10 minutes, and not too hot. I suspect that both my sons watch entire episodes of 'How I met your mother' while showering. My youngest even suggested we get one of those bathroom commodious aids that he could sit on while washing (conveniently located in budget supermarket central aisles - oh lockdown delights!).
Older skin is prone to dryness, sometimes called xerosis: it can get itchy(1). As we age, our skin produces fewer natural oils and this decreases its natural moisturising factor. Studies have found that over 50% of those over 65 have dry skin(2). Falling hormone levels, sun damage and cell renewal that just isn't as lively: it all adds up. Many older people may not have hardy digestive systems that will break down their food properly, or they may have poor appetites. Inadequate nutrition and dehydration will increase the likelihood of dry skin that will need moisturising.
3. Obesity and poor health
One study found that 75% of people with obesity suffered from uncomfortable conditions like itchy and dry skin(3). Extra fat stores reduce the water content of the skin, reducing trans-epidermal moisture in the outer layer of the skin and leaving the skin dry. Excess sweating can further break down the natural moisturising factor and increase the risk of dehydration and itchiness.
Many medications, including cholesterol-lowering medication (statins), can cause dry skin. The epidermis' natural moisturising factor is partially made up of a mix of lipids and fatty acids that include cholesterol(4). Many excellent emollient moisturisers contain plant sterols and cholesterol that mimic our natural moisturising factor. Examples are super-moisturising lanolin and all sorts of lovely cold-pressed plant oils like sunflower oil. To discover more about how sunflower oil can help your dry skin and other ways to hydrate your skin naturally, check out my blog 'How can I hydrate my skin naturally?'.
How many of us are drinking enough water? Skin experts tell us that the epidermis gets much of its water from the atmosphere as well as from our natural oils; sebum and natural moisturising factor. However, recent research has shown that correcting water deficiency may have a positive effect on all aspects of skin hydration(5). You can read more about drinking water's effect on dry skin in this article 'Does drinking water help dry skin?'
Your genetic makeup will influence the type of skin that you have; however, much of what we think is genetic may be the environment we grew up in. Don't just assume that everything is from your parents. I grew up in a family that wouldn't have dreamed of doing anything with water in a glass unless it was added to a cordial or a whisky. It took me quite a few years to not mind the taste of tap water and to figure out that I felt better when I got plenty of drinking water. Likewise, diet and lifestyle will impact the skin. It's important to consider all the causes of dry skin as well as what may be the best way of hydrating your dry skin.
7. The weather and environment
The epidermis draws much of its water content from the atmosphere. Dry wind, extreme temperatures and even central heating can affect the amount of moisture your skin can hold on to. If moisture content drops to below 10% the skin will dry out and may even start to crack. Protecting your skin from the elements is important, whether it's with gloves or good quality moisturising balms (link to Bioforce Cream?)
8. Soaps, detergents and other chemicals
Anything that comes in contact with your skin has the potential to worsen or cause dry skin. Overuse of soaps, hand sanitisers and foaming agents like sodium laurate sulphate can also wash away trans-epidermal water, reducing the natural moisturising factor. When I was a shop worker, I handled a lot of cardboard which made my hands incredibly dry and sore. Try to protect your skin with gloves when you handle abrasive materials or detergents. Replace lost moisture with a protective moisturiser (link to Bioforce Cream) as appropriate, and drink water when you are thirsty!
9. The wrong skincare products
Even lovely, natural ingredients like tea tree and charcoal have drying properties that may not be suitable for very dry skin. Ingredients like these have wonderful properties and can draw out impurities from the skin or act like an antiseptic, but they are better suited to occasional use or oily skin conditions. Do your research before you spend your money, and pick skincare products that will best benefit your skin.
My Top Tip: Try it on lips, ragged cuticles and rough patches.