Six Surprising Causes of Dry Skin

It should not be surprising that the general cause of itchy dry skin is lack of moisture but where does that lack of moisture comes from? 

“Dry skin is caused by an impaired skin barrier and dysfunction or deficiency in the necessary healthy fats in the top layer of the skin,” says Shari Marchbein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Downtown Dermatology in New York City.

If you’re looking for remedies for dry skin, check this list first to find out whether one of these offenders may be to blame, and find out how experts suggest you combat these dehydrators. You should see improvements within a week or two of caring for your skin properly, according to Harvard Health.

1. Fragrance & Soap

Fragrance actually does have a tendency to irritate dry skin or make it worse and that’s because fragrance is a common source of allergic contact dermatitis. It could take several exposures for the skin to react, or you might see a reaction the very first time, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Same goes for soaps, detergents, and shampoos. Most of these products subtract moisture from your skin and scalp, as they are formulated to remove oil.

So it is important to consider using only moisturizing body wash rather than a harsh bar soap. Check the ingredients list for the word “fragrance,” and remember “fragrance-free” is your friend. Body lotions and creams may do more harm than good when packed with perfumes. Read labels carefully. Lavender oil and other botanical oils have natural preservative properties and are used in cosmetics that may still be labeled “fragrance free.”

2. Genetics

Chalk it up to another thing you can blame on your mom and dad: Researchers say that dry skin can be inherited. According to a study, mutations in genes that control the production of the protein filaggrin, which plays a role in forming and hydrating the skin barrier, can cause several skin conditions. People with these mutations, estimated to be about 10 percent of the population, suffer drier skin and have a greater chance of developing eczema. Atopic dermatitis is a common type of eczema.

If you’ve always had dry skin or if it runs in your family, it’s essential that you’re diligent with daily moisturization. “Look for ceramides and lipids in moisturizers, which help build and reinforce the skin barrier,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

3. Hard Water & Long, Hot Showers 

It might be tempting to stand under the steaming-hot water for an extended period of time, especially during the cold months. But the practice could end up creating issues with your skin. “Taking long and steaming showers or baths can dry out the moisture in your skin,” Frieling says. Marchbein says to limit showers to no more than five minutes and to keep the water temperature warm, not hot. Afterward, apply a moisturizing cream within one minute of getting out of the shower, Marchbein adds. Moisturizers work best on damp skin, according to MedlinePlus.

Also, when tap water contains a high concentration of minerals like magnesium and calcium, it’s known as hard water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Those minerals can leave a film on skin that causes dryness. “Heavy metals turn the oils on skin into a thick substance that plugs glands, aggravates conditions like acne and rosacea, and prevents moisturizers from being absorbed into the skin,” says Dennis Gross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in New York City. Investing in a home filtration system, whether a whole-house treatment or one that attaches to the faucet, can help, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Gross also recommends adding skin-care products that contain vitamins A and C to your routine because they counteract the coating deposited by hard water.

4. Acne Medications and Retinol 

Salicylic acid can be great at treating acne, but it may also dry out your skin when you first start using it, according to MedlinePlus. Dryness is a common side effect of retinol, too, and it happens because retinol loosens the connection between cells on the skin’s surface, according to a study published in August 2017 in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. The good news is that you don’t have to give up these skin-care saviors, though cutting down on their use may deliver results without irritation. “Reduce the frequency of use from every day to every other day or so, make sure you choose a gentle cleanser that isn’t compounding the issue, and ask your dermatologist for a less drying prescription if necessary,” Dr. Forman Taub says.

The best frequency will depend on your specific skin type, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Take burning, peeling, and flaking as signs you need to stop using the product, Dr. Frieling says. “This is not something to play guessing games with and use trial and error,” she notes. Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist and bring the product with you so the doctor can evaluate it and make sure it’s right for your skin.

5. Aging 

Dry skin tends to become more of an issue as people get older. The Mayo Clinic notes that adults ages 40 or older are at an increased risk of experiencing dry skin, and it affects about half of the individuals in this age group. “As we get older, our skin produces less oil and gets drier,” Frieling says. For women, it could also be due to the hormone changes associated with menopause, according to Penn Medicine. The fix? Moisturize every day (or multiple times a day if needed), recommends the American Academy of Dermatology. Marchbein says to look for a moisturizer that contains ceramides, humectants (such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin), and petrolatum. These ingredients help replenish lost moisture and quickly repair the skin barrier, she says.

6. Certain Medical Conditions Can Cause Dry Skin

Skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema can make your skin more prone to dryness, Frieling says. But dry skin could also indicate something seemingly unrelated, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, malnutrition, kidney failure, or Sjögren’s syndrome, according to Harvard Health and Penn Medicine. So how might you know if the dryness is the result of something run-of-the-mill like the weather or something more serious? Frieling says to be on the lookout for inflamed areas, crusting, intense itchiness, hyperpigmentation, and rough, flaky, or scaly patches on the skin and take those as a hint it’s time to visit a doctor. Once you’ve nailed down the root cause for the dryness, your doctor can help you determine the proper treatment.

(Culled from Moira Lawler’s Causes of Dry Skin)

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