Dry Skin - Information and Remedies for the Treatment of Dry Skin
Everyone occasionally suffers from dry skin, according to dermatologist James Shaw, M.D., chief of the Division of Dermatology at Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center and associate clinical professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University, both in Portland. “Dry skin is largely influenced by genetics and by climate and other drying factors like taking hot showers,” he says.
When there’s not enough water in the skin’s top layer (called the stratum corneum), the skin becomes flaky, itchy, and unsightly. In extreme cases, this layer can become rough, cracked, and scaly, and chronic dermatitis (skin irritation) can develop.
Normally, the outer layer of the skin is kept moist by fluid from the sweat glands and from underlying tissues. Oil, produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin, helps to seal in that fluid. But lots of things rob moisture from the skin’s outer layer. Some people simply have an outer skin layer that doesn’t hold water well. Others may have less active sweat glands. Age is also a factor in dry skin. The older you get, the less oil the sebaceous glands produce, and the drier your skin is likely to be.
One of the greatest skin-moisture robbers is low humidity. Cold, dry air, common in many areas during the winter months, sucks water from the skin. Add the drying effects of sun and/or high altitude to low humidity and the parching is compounded. Heated or air-conditioned air in your home or office may also be dry and cause your skin to lose moisture.
Water can actually take moisture from your skin. Over bathing or bathing in hot water for long periods of time causes a repeated wetting and drying of the tissue that holds the outer layer of skin together and, over time, can make it less able to hold and retain water. “People who bathe several times a day or take lots of hot tubs are actually leaching important proteins from their skin that normally keep the skin moist,” explains Frank Parker, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
Harsh soaps, detergents, household cleansers, and chemical solvents can also take their toll on the skin. These products can damage the skin’s outer layer. People who must frequently wash and dry their hands, such as nurses and hairstylists, often complain of red, chapped hands, so-called “dishpan hands.”
While you can’t keep skin away from all of the external moisture robbers, here are some tips to keep your skin moist and youthful-looking for years to come:
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Always keep a lotion or cream on your skin, especially if you tend toward dry skin, says Parker. “Apply moisturizer right after you bathe, while you’re still damp,” he says. Pat, don’t rub, yourself dry-damp with a soft towel. Apply moisturizers throughout the day whenever your skin feels dry and before retiring to bed.
Which moisturizers should you use? “The more oil a product has in it, the more protection it offers, and the thicker the product, the more it seals in moisture,” says Shaw. “Thin lotions are mostly water. Cold creams are thicker and have more oil and less water. And products like Vaseline [petrolatum] are all oil.”
Dermatologist Margaret Robertson, M.D., a staff physician at St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, advises using a thick, unscented moisturizer that doesn’t automatically disappear on the skin. She says you can mix water with petrolatum to form a cream that provides good moisture protection.
Take short, cool showers and baths. Hot water actually draws out oil, the skin’s natural barrier to moisture loss, and can make itching worse, says Shaw. Bathe or shower only as often as really necessary and no more than once a day. If you insist on long, hot soaks, always apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing.
Use soap sparingly. Shaw advises decreasing soap and water washing. “People wash too much,” he says. “Overwashing with soap and water harms the skin’s outer layer.”
People who suffer from chronically dry skin should take brief baths or showers and lather up only the groin, armpits, and bottoms of the feet, says Robertson. When you use soap, opt for milder, oilated or superfatted soaps such as Dove, Basis, or Aveenobar. For super-dry skin, you may have to use a soap substitute to cleanse your skin.
Don’t be abrasive. Scrubbing your skin with washcloths, loofah sponges, or other scrubbing products dries your skin out even more, says Robertson. “Often, when people have dry skin, they develop scale and try to scrub it off with washcloths or sponges,” she says. “But they’re doing more harm than good.”
Oil that bath. “Bath oils can help,” says Shaw. But, he warns, if you put the bath oil in the water before you get in and get wet, the oil can coat your skin and prevent it from becoming saturated with water. Instead, he recommends adding the oil to the bath after you’ve been in the water for a while or applying it directly to your wet skin after bathing. (If you do add the oil to your bathwater, be sure to use extra care when getting in or out of the tub, since the oil will make the tub slippery.)
Robertson says that mineral oil makes an excellent bath oil. However, she warns not to soak, even in an oil bath, for longer than 20 minutes.
Raise the humidity. The higher the humidity, the less dry the skin. “In the tropics, where the humidity is around 90 percent, no one suffers from dry skin,” says Shaw. He says once the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the humidity tends to drop off too.
Sixty percent humidity is perfect for the skin. It’s the point at which the skin and the air are in perfect balance and moisture isn’t being drawn from the skin into the air. If you live in a dry climate or if the humidity in your office or home is less than 60 percent, consider using a home humidifier. Even a vaporizer or kettle of water on slow boil can raise the humidity in a room somewhat.
Avoid detergents, cleansers, and solvents. Common household products, such as cleansers, window cleaners, ammonia, turpentine, lighter fluid, and mineral spirits can dry and damage the skin’s outer layer. Avoid directly exposing your skin to such products by wearing vinyl gloves and using less harsh alternatives (for example, vinegar and water make a great window cleaner) whenever possible. Use a long-handled brush to keep your hands out of dishwater.
Nix alcohol-based products. Some people like to cleanse their faces with alcohol wipes or astringents. They leave the skin feeling clean and tingling, but there’s a price. “Alcohol-based products have a drying effect,” says Shaw.
Use cream- or oil-based makeup. If you wear foundation and blusher, choose oil-based types that help retain moisture rather than water-based products, says Robertson. In the evening, wash off makeup with mild soap. Then, rinse thoroughly, blot dry with a soft towel, and moisturize well with a heavy, cream-type moisturizer.
Cool it off. Hot environments heated by wood stoves or forced air heating systems dry out the skin. Shaw recommends keeping the air temperature a few degrees lower to keep your skin moist.
Toss off the electric blanket, pile on the comforter. The heat from electric blankets can dry out your skin, too. Shaw says that for people who have chronically dry skin, opting for an extra blanket instead of an electric one is a good idea.
Avoid too much alcohol. The effects of excessive alcohol consumption usually don’t show up on the skin for several years. “We don’t really know if there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between drinking alcohol and dry skin,” says Robertson. “But we do know that alcoholics tend to have drier, more wrinkled skin.”
Each time you drink alcohol, your skin loses moisture needed to keep it young-looking. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it lowers the water concentration of the blood. To replace the lost water, the body draws water from surrounding cells. Limit your intake to no more than two ounces per day. Better yet, avoid alcohol altogether.
Tagged under: Skin Disorders
Filed under: Skin Disorders