Dry, flaky skin is always an unwelcome visitor, especially if you have dry skin on your face and hands. But there are ways to combat it and ways to prevent it from appearing in the first place!
What is dry skin?
Dry/dehydrated skin (xerosis, to give its medical term), occurs when the skin’s moisture-holding fat or lipid layer is depleted.
Lipids support skin cells in a similar way to mortar in a brick wall. Just as fully intact mortar creates a strong wall, a full lipid content in the skin provides healthy structure to the skin and allows a barrier to be maintained that retains moisture:
But if the mortar is missing, a brick wall crumbles or in other words, if the skin loses it lipids and thus moisture, it becomes very dry and flaky:
What does dry skin look like?
Dry skin can appear as scaly, cracking or flaky skin and can sometimes be itchy and is usually rough to the touch.
Where does dry skin occur?
Dry skin can appear anywhere, but the most common places to get dry skin are on your face, lips, hands, elbows, knees and feet. It can affect an entire area or appear as patches of dry skin.
Cracked fingers, dry hands and chapped skin can be a real winter hazard. Our hands are particularly at risk from dryness as we wash them frequently and they are often exposed to the cold.
Our hands are often exposed to the cold or harsh household cleaners. Harsh detergents, solvents and synthetic fragrances can strip away the skin’s natural oils, disrupt its protective barrier and leave it dry and vulnerable to irritant chemicals and microbes.
When the skin on the hands and fingers is dry and cracked, it can be hard to ignore and it can also be painful, so finding a good chapped hands cream is really important to ease discomfort and help with prevention.
When the skin around the heels becomes very dry and hard, it loses its elasticity and as a result, the skin can crack and split. Most of us are on our feet a huge amount and walking in shoes all day can cause friction between the skin and shoe material, which leads to dry callouses forming on the skin of the heel. Excessive pressure on the feet can make the foot pad want to expand sideways and in doing so, if the skin on the heels is very dry from friction, the expansion can cause the skin to crack. The good news is that with a little work, dry and cracked heels can be treated and prevented.
Cracked heels treatment step 1 is to give them a good soak in warm water. Then take a exfoliating brush or file and gentle slough away dead skin cells. A natural scrub, like our Coconut Candy Scrub is ideal too, and will help with softening more delicate areas like dry heels in particular. Then, be sure to apply a thick high-quality moisturiser or balm to your heels. A helpful tip is to leave the moisturiser on at night with a pair of socks over the top to keep moisture on your feet and not on your bed sheets!
Chapped and sore lips are dead giveaways of skin that is feeling the effect of biting winds and cold, as chapped lips tend to occur when we’re exposed to cold air. Cold air causes the lips to lose moisture and when this happens, the skin over the lips becomes dry, chapped and sore. If our lips get dry, we tend to lick them more to ease the discomfort which more often than not aggravates the problem. Try and avoid the temptation to lick the cracked lips, this will only dry them more as the saliva evaporates.
Having dry skin on your face is probably the last place you'd choose! It can give the skin a dull, unhealthy appearance and it can't be disguised well. Your skin can often feel tight, especially after washing.
What causes dry skin?
Causes of dry skin and lipid loss can be external (environmental) or internal (from within the body). The most common causes are environmental – cold, windy weather or dry air from central heating. For this reason, dry skin is often worse in winter.
As in the brick wall analogy – mortar comes under most severe attack during winter from frost and extreme temperatures. Cold or dry air simply draws moisture out of the skin, often leaving it taut, rough to the touch, and uncomfortable.
- Chemical irritants: Harsh detergents and other irritants that damage the skin’s moisture barrier can play a role in skin dehydration all year round, which is why it’s important to incorporate organic, natural skincare into your routine, rather than products filled with synthetic chemicals known to strip the skin of its moisture.
- Internal issues:
Dry skin can also be due to factors within the body. Hormonal changes or dietary imbalance can both be causes of flaky, scaly skin. Sometimes dry skin is a symptom of more problematic conditions such as eczema or dermatitis (inflamed, dry and or itchy skin), as well as psoriasis (linked to the immune system).
- Sun exposure
If you are going to spend time in the sun, be sure to moisturise! You can use a moisturiser under our sunscreen (make sure it’s free from synthetic chemicals!) to protect you throughout the day and moisturise at the end of the day, when you come back inside.
- Alcohol consumption and smoking
What you put into your body is just as important as what you put on it. Although your body can more than handle some alcohol consumption, drinking too much might dry out your skin. Smoking, on the other hand, is always something to avoid and the toxins in cigarettes can interfere with your circulation, which in turn can dry out your skin.
We wouldn’t recommend giving up medication, especially without consulting your doctor about it first, but some medications could potentially contribute to the appearance of dry skin.
We conducted a survey to which people responded with their own experiences of dealing with dry skin. 100% of the people surveyed claimed that their dry skin worsens in the winter:
“Now that the temperatures have dropped, my hands are dry and cracked. I need a richer moisturiser on my face as my forehead is a lot dryer as well as my ears”
Many of the replies agreed that their extremities, particularly dry hands, appeared to suffer more when the temperature started to drop or when the central heating was used.
When the skin feels dry or rough it may already have lost 80% or more of its lipids, but the good news is that most dry skin conditions can easily be helped and we have some dry skin remedies for you to apply….
Top tips for treating dry skin
- Use moisturiser effectively:
- Moisturising little and often - 3 to 4 times a day is a more effective way to help dry skin than slathering on a lot of moisturiser once a day. It’s particularly beneficial to moisturise just after a shower or bath when the skin is damp, so that you lock in moisture. Be consistent with your moisturising routine; allow for at least two weeks to see improvement.
- Don’t over-moisturise, though; skin can become ‘lazy’ and not produce enough of its own oils (sebum) if you apply moisturiser to areas that don’t need it. This is particularly true of combination skin where there are patches of dry and oilier skin.
- Choose your moisturiser ingredients carefully:
Research shows that replacing the skin's lost lipids with moisture that is most similar to those lipids offers rapid and effective repair. This makes sense - the body can quickly make use of substances that it recognises and needs.
The skin's primary lipid components include free fatty acids such as linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3) and one or both of these are found abundantly in certain plant oils like: - Olive, - Sunflower, - Rosehip - Sea buckthorn.
Indeed, research proves that specific plant extracts are highly effective natural dry skin remedies.
Avoid: In contrast, petroleum or mineral oil offers no kinship with the skin and no nutritional properties. Which is why using product as natural and organic as possible is important. Moistursers full of synthetic ingredients only mask the problem, rather than help repair it for good. Studies show that natural substances such as coconut oil are superior to synthetic counter-parts like mineral oil.
Remember also that oil is only one part of the skin's natural moisturising factor. While oils (and balms) should provide valuable skin nutrients and conserve existing moisture in the skin, helping to lock it in and slow down evaporation from the skin's surface, only water and plant juices provide added moisture. So if moisture is depleted the skin benefits from a carefully balanced moisturiser product comprising both water and oil, to keep it smooth and hydrated.
3. Use the right moisturiser for the right part of your body:
The top layer of your skin around the eyes is half as deep (0.05mm) as the skin elsewhere on your body (0.1mm) and the skin on your feet can be more than 10 times as thick.
Accordingly, your skin will benefit from:
- A light moisturiser around your eyes/face (lower oil content to avoid puffiness). - A richer moisturiser on dry patches on your body (like feet and hands) - Consider not using any moisturiser at all on non-dry, unexposed areas or any oily areas of your face.
4. Cleanse to promote cell renewal, but only exfoliate gently:
Cleansing helps to get rid of dry dead skin cells and promote renewal of cells that can hold moisture more effectively.
Exfoliation removes dead skin cells to a higher degree and should be done carefully or not at all on very sensitive skin to avoid leaving the skin open to attack from cold air and toxins.
On your face, consider using an oil-based cleanser or cleansing balm; they work very well on makeup and slide impurities off without dragging the skin. If you prefer a rinse-off cleanser, try one of the innovative gel to milk cleansers that also leave a layer of hydration.
5. Don’t get into hot water:
When bathing, showering or washing your hands, avoid very hot water, even if it does feel glorious on a cold day.
Hot water can damage your skin and leave it feeling dry. Limit your time bathing to a maximum of 15 minutes and keep the water warm, rather than hot. After you towel dry (gently pat dry!) apply moisturiser as soon as possible.
6…or work up a lather:
Bubbles from soap and hand wash are often associated with effective cleansing. But actually more lather doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner. A mild plant oil soap or gentle detergent will do the job just as well. Harsh detergents do have a strong binding mechanism with fats, stripping out the dirt and grease, but they also remove your skin’s natural oils.
Choose products with mild cleansers and avoid sulphates which are acknowledged as being among the harshest detergents.
7. Be aware of pH balance:
Protecting your skin’s ‘acid mantle’ – the watery part of a film that covers your skin is crucial in understanding how to stop dry skin.
The acid mantle is so called because it is slightly acidic (at pH 4.75 – 5.75 depending on age, sex and where the skin is on the body). Damage the acid mantle by altering its pH and the skin struggles to create its own lipids, leaving it susceptible to moisture loss and no longer able to work as a barrier to toxins, bacteria and allergens.
But many skin care products and particularly detergents e.g. shampoos, shower gel and some soaps are actually alkaline and can upset your skin’s pH. So look out for wash products that are pH-balanced - 5.5 is commonly used as the best all-round value.
8. Wrap up in winter:
One of the best home remedies for dry skin is simply to wrap up warm. Create a barrier of soft snuggly hats, scarves and gloves to guard against dry skin in winter. Likewise, light cotton clothes can help to prevent skin dehydration in summer.
Taking advantage of a humidifier in your home may also help keep your skin hydrated in the winter months.
9. Avoid irritants:
From harsh chemicals to rough clothes to cleaning products – irritants can make us itchy which just makes dry skin worse. Damaging the skin through scratching leaves it more prone to moisture loss, dehydration as well as toxins and allergens.
Research shows that washing with soap and water disrupts the skin’s barrier function significantly and can interfere with pH.
Irritants can also be found in your clothes, depending on what you wash your clothes with (more information on this can be found here) and depending on what fabrics you are wearing.
The most common culprits are wool, polyester and nylon.
10. Drink and eat well:
Regular fluid intake is another important home remedy to help skin looking healthy from the inside. Drinking regularly (water or herbal tea) throughout the day is better for absorption of fluid in the body than taking a lot in one go.
Foods that are beneficial for dry skin include fish, pulses and nuts because they are rich in the fats and oils that occur naturally in the skin. Flaxseed oil in particular has shown promise in the treatment and prevention of dry skin by improving the skin barrier function and increasing hydration. Supplements like GLA (gamma linoleic acid), borage oil and starflower oil are often recommended for dry skin as they provide a rich and readily available source of skin nutrients to correct dietary imbalance.
If your skin is very dry all the time, it may be worth consulting a nutritionist.
Hard and Soft Water
Living in an area where the water is “hard” (meaning that the water has a high mineral content) can have an affect on the appearance of your skin. High mineral content in the water effects its pH and it tends to be very alkaline – which contrasts with the pH of your skin, which leans more toward the acidic side. Disrupting the pH balance of your skin can result in a drying effect.
Hard water also interferes with how well products are rinsed off of your skin. Because hard water already has minerals dissolved in it, it leaves less “room” for other solutes (like shampoo and soap) to enter the solution, leaving a residue behind when you try to rinse off. Left over product (particularly if it’s synthetic/contains irritants) can aggravate your skin and clog your pores.
On the same note, irritating substances can be left behind on your clothes after you wash them, leaving your skin itchy and dry after wearing them.
If you suspect/know your water supply is hard, a water softener can be installed. In the mean time, try to use soft, shop-bought water where possible (perhaps to use when washing your face, which is more sensitive and prone to drying).
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Keeping consistency in your skincare routine is key and remember that preventing dry skin from occurring in the first place is easier than treating it; research has shown oil baths “seem to reduce xerosis and may possibly reduce atopic eczema in children” (before it has occurred in the first place!).
Keeping your skin hydrated and free from a dry, flaky appearance need not be an uphill battle!
If you found this article helpful, please share it with others and tell us your experiences in the comments section below.
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