For skin to feel soft and supple it must be fully hydrated. To help protect the outer layer of skin from losing water, the skin’s sebaceous glands produce an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is made up of fatty acids, sugars, waxes and other natural chemicals that form a protective barrier against water evaporation.
If the skin doesn’t have enough sebum, it loses water and feels dry. When environmental factors cause even more water evaporation, it over taxes the sebum’s ability to prevent water loss, the skin will then start to shrivel and cause you to look like a prune.
Xerosis is another name for abnormal dryness of the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. It is also considered by some to be the normal hardening of aging tissue. I do not believe hardening of tissue is normal at any age. However, xerosis is a very common problem, and usually one or more of the following factors is involved:
• Decreased sebum production in the elderly is often a factor, because the number of sebaceous glands tends to decrease with age. Elderly people are also more likely to have a decreased blood flow to the skin which also causes sebum production to become less.
• Extreme climatic conditions can cause the skin’s natural protective barrier to be overwhelmed, such as a hot, dry climate which causes the moisture to evaporate. This is generally the reason for dry skin among people who live in the desert. Excessively dry indoor air may also cause dry skin, especially in people who use forced-air heating. This is sometimes called “winter itch”. Athletes are often exposed to wind, and sun which will cause evaporation, but even swimmers get dry skin because of the chemical content of the pool water which actually draws moisture from the skin.
• The most common cause for the loss of existing sebum is excessive bathing or showering, to much scrubbing while washing, or harsh soaps that dissolve the protective layer of sebum. Sometimes this results in dry skin over the entire body. Especially among athletes, or anyone who has to shower several time a day. Most often though, it is just the hands that are involved, as in the case of house cleaners, health care workers, homemakers, and food handlers who must frequently wash their hands.
People with diabetes or skin allergies, are often plagued by dry skin. Dry skin is one of the side effects of some medications, especially some acne products that are applied directly to the skin. Less often, it can be a symptom of hypothyroidism, kidney failure, or Sjogrens Syndrome.
Usually people will notice that their skin is flaky and slightly more wrinkled than normal, but sometimes the only symptom is itching. Symptoms may sometimes worsen during the winter months, especially if you spend a lot of time indoors.
With dry skin, you can generally make the diagnosis yourself. You can begin by examining your normal skin care routine. Do you often take long, hot baths or showers? Do you shower several times a day or scrub your skin surface with harsh soaps? Do you have a job that requires frequent hand washing?
Then, examine your environmental factors, both indoors and outdoors. Where you live, is it hot or cold, is it humid or dry? Do Are you inside during the winter months without a humidifier? When you go outdoors, do you protect your skin with appropriate clothing or with a sunscreen on exposed surfaces? Do you ever use a moisturizer?
When you begin to take care of your skin properly, the flakiness and itch of dry skin should improve within one or two weeks. In many cases, a good skin care moisturizer cream will begin to make your skin look softer and suppler within minutes.
If you don’t take proper care of your skin, dry skin can become a chronic problem that can lead to skin thickening, cracking and bleeding. It may also increase your risk of skin infection.
These five simple steps may prevent dry skin completely:
1. One shower or bath daily. Wash with warm (not hot) water, using a soap that either has a high fat content or contains glycerin. Don’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes in the shower, and avoid scrubbing.
2. If you are an athlete, shower quickly. Use warm water, and bring your own mild soap, “gym” brands are usually harsh.
3. Upon finishing, apply moisturizer while your skin is still wet. Petroleum jelly or a thick cream is best for sealing skin moisture.
4. If you can’t wear protective clothing because of hot weather or game regulations, apply a sunscreen with a moisturizer. If you are a swimmer, apply a light layer of a water resistant gel before you enter the pool.
5. Use a humidifier to raise the humidity level, if your indoor air is dry during winter months,
Apply a good skin care moisturizer cream as necessary during the day, that contains at least one of the following ingredients:
* Colorless carotenoids, UV light activated, they provide powerful antioxidant protection against the environment.
* Shea butter, evening primrose oil, and meadowfoam seed oil provide rich emollients to enhance the skins natural barrier function and increase hydration levels.
* ParsolÂ® 1789 and other sunscreens shield against aging UVA and UVB rays.
* Chamomile, cornflower, and matricaria flower extracts. This
special blend soothes the skin.
Avoid overusing antiperspirants and perfumes, since these products can dry the skin.
If your dry skin persists, contact your doctor’s office for advice. Call your primary care doctor or a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin problems) if you have:
Dry skin that doesn’t respond to nonprescription treatments.
Severe itching that interferes with your ability to work or sleep.
Dry skin that cracks and bleeds, or becomes red, swollen and painful.
Overall, the prognosis is excellent. You can often prevent dry skin by making a few simple changes in lifestyle. If dry skin develops, there are many soothing and effective treatments available. Most can be purchased without a prescription.