When skin becomes very dry, it loses its softness, flexibility, moisture, and youthful look. It is rough and itchy and may appear wrinkled, shiny, or scaly. New skin cells are constantly forming in the junction between the epidermis and dermis. These cells slowly rise to the outer skin layer, carrying with them moisture from the underlying dermis. They die and are shed as new cells emerge to take their place. This renewal process continues throughout life, but the skin’s ability to retain moisture diminishes with age. Skin becomes dry when the moisture evaporates faster than it can be replenished. One reason is that the production of sebum, which contains oils that inhibit evaporation, diminishes as skin ages. Other factors that promote dry skin include overheated rooms, exposure to soap and other harsh cleansers, frequent bathing in overly hot water, over exposure to the sun, and dry, windy climates. Hormonal changes, especially the drop in estrogen that follows menopause, can also cause skin dryness.
Diagnostic Studies And Procedures
A dermatologist can identify dry skin by its appearance. If the skin is severely dry or if a young person has suddenly developed dry, itchy skin, a physician may order blood tests to determine whether there is an underlying disease . She will also review the patient’s medications and relevant lifestyle factors, such as spending time in the sun.
Dry skin rarely requires a doctor’s care, but a dermatologist can help to design a self treatment program. If nonpre scription products are not effective, a doctor may recommend using Lac Hydrin, a prescription drug that acts on skin cell metabolism to help remoisturize overly dry skin.
Massages that include the use of eucalyptus or other aromatic oils can help prevent excessive evaporation of moisture; massage also increases blood flow to the skin. Masks and
Normal skin Dry skin
cleansing creams containing essential aromatic oils may be beneficial as well.
Herbalists recommend taking gamma linoleic acid (GLA)a fatty acid found in evening primrose, black currant, and borage oils to promote the healthy growth of skin, hair, and nails. The usual dosage consists of two to four “pearls” ingested daily. Lotions containing aloe vera help restore skin moisture.
Beta carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and vitamins C, D, and E contribute to healthy skin. Besides including foods rich in these nutrients in your diet, apply a thin film of vitamin E or wheat germ oil to the skin as a moisturizer.
Diligent self care is the key to overcoming dry skin.
- When in the sun, apply a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15. If the sun screen irritates your skin, you may be sensitive to its ingredients. Ask a dermatologist to recommend a product.
- Use moisturizers containing urea on your face and body after each washing.
- Exercise regularly to improve blood flow to the skin.
- If you smoke, stop. Smoking can reduce the flow of blood to the skin and may lower a woman’s estrogen levels, thereby speeding the skin’s aging.
- Take shorter showers, or better still, switch to tub baths. Use warm, not hot, water and oilated or superfatted soaps. If your skin is extremely dry, try a soap substitute. After bathing, pat the skin only semidry, then moisturize it.
- Avoid astringents and skin toners, unless they are specially formulated for dry skin. Gel masks, rather than paste masks, are appropriate when made for dry skin. Use oil based makeup, and avoid cosmetics containing alcohol.
- In winter, set the thermostat at 68 or 70°F , and use a humidifier. In summer, avoid air conditioning, which dries the air, whenever possible.
Other Causes of Dry Skin
Patches of dry, itchy skin may indicate eczema, or, when scaly, psoriasis. Contact dermatitis produces dry, cracked, and scaly skin as a reaction to specific substances.