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What causes dry skin (and how to get rid of dry skin for good)

We’ve all suffered a patch or two of dry skin in our time. However for some people, dry skin is an ongoing condition that causes misery and destroys their confidence. Let’s look at what really causes dry skin, who is most likely to suffer from it, and how to get rid of dry skin for good.

girl with dry skin

What is dry skin?

The answer might seem obvious, but dry skin can display in several different ways. Known medically as “xerosis,” dry skin is a common complaint that is rarely harmful, but often irritating. The most obvious signs of dry skin are excessive skin flaking, peeling, or scaling. However dry skin does present in other ways as well. Redness and/or itching are common if you have dry skin, as is feeling like your skin is too tight. This is often especially true after bathing or swimming. Dry skin often looks gray, ashy, or dull. You may notice more pronounced lines or wrinkles if your skin is dry, and very dry skin can crack and bleed.

When dry skin is severe, it may be the result of dermatitis. This is a term for inflamed, irritated skin. Many people with dry skin suffer from contact dermatitis, caused by exposure to an irritant or allergen. Seborrheic dermatitis is caused by an overproduction of oil, and is a common cause of dandruff as well as a red, scaly rash. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is another common condition that likely has an underlying genetic or immune cause.

What causes dry skin?

hand with dry skin

Dry skin can be caused by many of the same factors that trigger dermatitis. Anything from the time of year or the temperature of your shower can be the culprit. Ultimately dry skin is a result of your skin losing essential moisture, so many lifestyle factors could be to blame. The most common causes of dry skin include bathing in water that’s too hot or using harsh soaps and detergents.

Taking a hot shower might feel like a luxury, but it’s terrible for your skin’s protective oils. Sebum, the waxy substance your skin creates to lock in moisture, gets stripped away when exposed to hot water, and without its protective barrier the moisture in your skin is quickly lost.

Using too much soap or strong detergent has the same effect. People with dry skin should avoid overuse of anything designed to cut through fat or oil, because those products are indiscriminate and will remove good oils as well as bad. Other ingredients that dry out skin include chlorine from swimming pools, fragrances in skincare, and some acne medications (especially Retinol) also have a drying effect.

Cold and low humidity also contribute to dry skin. That’s why many people are prone to itchy, flaky skin in the winter, when we spend more time indoors in dry, heated air. Those who live in desert regions might also find the climate has a drying effect on their skin.

Some people are more likely to suffer from dry skin than others due to their genetics. If you have other skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, or allergies, your skin could have a natural tendency to be dry.

Why some people have worse dry skin than others

woman in shower

Because there is a genetic factor to dry skin, some people will simply be more prone to suffering from it than others. While most of us experience some dry skin on occasion, here are the most common risk factors for dry skin:

  • Age. As we get older, our skin changes and produces less protective sebum. That means if you’re in your 40s or beyond, you’re more likely to have dry skin. Around half of older adults suffer from dry skin.
  • Climate. Cold, dry, and low-humidity environments are terrible for drying out our skin. If you live at a high altitude, in a desert region, or a very cold environment, you’re more likely to experience dry skin.
  • Season. Dry skin is more likely in the fall and winter, when we spend more time indoors with the heat turned up. This creates low-humidity environments that sap moisture from our skin.
  • Water. It might seem strange, but spending a lot of time in water — particularly if it’s chlorinated, salty, or hot — can dry out our skin. People who swim frequently in chlorinated pools or the ocean are at risk of drying their skin. Hairdressers, nurses, kitchen staff, and other workers who frequently immerse their hands in water can also experience dry skin.
  • Genetics. If you have other skin conditions or strong immune responses to allergens, it’s more likely that you will also suffer from dry skin.

How to get rid of dry skin

putting lotion on hands

Dry skin is often a temporary response to your environment, and once you find the trigger it can be easily treated. If your dry skin is persistent even after making changes to provide it with extra hydration, you should consult a dermatologist to see if there’s an underlying cause.

Use moisturizer. The simplest way to rehydrate your skin and keep it hydrated is to use moisturizer. For extremely dry skin, look for a petrolatum or oil-based moisturizer to help lock in water. During summer months when ambient humidity stops your skin from becoming too dry, switch to water-based products instead.

Avoid ingredients designed to strip oils. That means any drying soaps, detergents, or acne treatments. Your skin needs its protective oil barrier to lock in moisture, and stripping it away will quickly leave you with dry skin. Instead look for oil-based soaps, rich moisturizers, and shower gel formulated for dry skin.

Turn the shower temperature down. We all love a steamy bath or shower to pamper ourselves, but it isn’t good for our skin. Try to keep the water lukewarm rather than hot, reduce the time you spend in the water, and don’t bathe more than once a day. When you get out of the tub, pat your skin dry and apply moisturizer while still damp to lock in as much hydration as possible.

Wear rubber gloves. You might go out of your way to avoid other irritants, but many people overlook the washing liquid in their kitchen. If you regularly immerse your hands in a sink full of hot suds, wear rubber gloves to prevent getting dry skin.

Cover up when you’re going outside. In winter, try to protect your skin from the cold temperatures and harsh wind. Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves, and use a nourishing lip balm. And whatever the time of year, wear sunscreen. It will protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Invest in a humidifier. If you live in a dry environment, or your skin needs some extra help during the winter months, a humidifier can work wonders for your skin. You can pick a new one up for less than $50.

Drink water. It seems obvious, but if your skin is dry, hydrate it from the inside too. Experts recommend we consume 1oz of water for every pound we weigh. We get about twenty percent of our water from food, so a 160lb person should drink about a gallon of water (16 cups) per day.

Don’t itch! Dry skin can be incredibly itchy, but scratching doesn't help it heal, and could end up making things worse. You could even get an infection if your skin is bleeding, so avoid the temptation to itch.

In conclusion

Dry skin is miserable, but it’s usually a temporary condition that can be fixed with a few simple lifestyle changes. The hardest part can be identifying what triggers your dry skin. Try to eliminate products to work out what is causing your dry skin, and be mindful of how you’re treating your skin barrier. Stick with products that are made especially for dry skin to cut out ingredients that are doing more harm than good. At Qyral, our products are custom-formulated to give your skin exactly what it needs, using only ingredients that nourish and support dry skin. With a little TLC, your dry skin can be soft and supple again in no time.

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