Has your skin been feeling tight or itchy lately? Have you been experiencing peeling and cracking? Dry skin, what dermatologists refer to as xerosis, is often temporary or seasonal, but for some it can be a lifelong condition. Your skin dries out simply because it produces less sebum (our body’s natural oil) than normal. Without that much-needed moisture, your skin lacks a strong barrier to protect itself from external aggressors.
While dry skin is usually harmless it can be uncomfortable, especially if skin is flaking and peeling. Read on to find out what causes dry skin and how to fix dry skin by adjusting your lifestyle.
Identify your skin type
If you find yourself asking, "Why is my skin so dry?" then you first need to identify your skin type to find the right solution. To do so, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and don’t apply any of your other skincare products. Wait a while after washing and examine your natural skin texture and tone closely. If you look in the mirror and see that your skin is shiny, you have oily skin. If your face is red, flaky, tight, or irritated, you have dry skin. If you find you have patches of shine and patches of irritation or redness, then you have combination skin.
If you have oily skin, your sebaceous glands are producing too much sebum and can often leave an oily film on top of your skin. This can also lead to clogged pores and acne. As a matter of fact, the more active your oil glands are, the bigger your pores will be. There are also benefits to having oily skin – it helps to preserve your skin and can lead to fewer wrinkles later in life.
If you have dry skin, your sebaceous glands aren’t producing enough sebum to properly hydrate and protect your skin, leaving it feeling tight and uncomfortable. Or, that oil is being stripped away too quickly by environmental factors. If your skin feels like this, it’s important to first figure out if your skin is naturally dry or if some lifestyle changes will help relieve the tightness, itchiness, and cracking. This skin type is often seasonal and temporary, but can also be lifelong depending on your genetics.
This skin type is said to be the most popular. For many with combination skin, they find their T-Zone (forehead, nose, and chin) to be oily, while their cheeks and the rest of the skin on their face are dry. This imbalance is often caused by genetics, but environmental factors do come into play here as well.
What causes dry skin?
To figure out how to properly treat your dry skin, figuring out your root cause will be helpful. Here are a few common causes of dry skin.
Yes, there’s such a thing. When you wash your face too much, you’re stripping your skin of the natural oils it needs to stay in balance. By constantly removing the oil, you’re triggering your skin to make more and more of it, which leads to unwanted conditions like dry skin with breakouts. You should wash your face twice per day with a cleanser that removes dirt, oil, and makeup.
These days, there’s a serum, moisturizer, and mask to treat everything. So if you’re asking yourself, "Why is my skin so dry?", you might be overdoing it with the skincare. When using exfoliating ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid and lactic acid) and beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), it takes time for your skin to properly adjust and reap the benefits. Help your skin adjust by using these ingredients every other day or every few days, then building up to daily use. If you’re treating acne and would like to hit it from all angles, try a proactiv skincare routine. Regimens like these are created to maintain balance in your skin without over-drying.
What’s better than a relaxing hot shower? Balanced skin, of course! There’s a direct correlation between hot water and dry skin. The hotter the water, the more oil and moisture is stripped from your skin. Replacing long hot baths and showers with short, lukewarm ones is an easy lifestyle tweak that can save you the itch and irritation.
There are several ingredients in face and body washes that can cause dry skin. A popular one is sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a detergent that breaks down oil. No matter what your skin type, when choosing a body wash, look for the words "moisturizing" or "nourishing" on the label. The ingredients petrolatum or oil should be among the first listed.
Some medications, topical and ingestible, are known reduce hydration in your skin and cause it to dry out. Ask your doctor if this a side effect of any medications you may be taking. If you learn your medication is the cause of your dry skin, consider other lifestyle changes — like taking lukewarm showers, using mild soaps, and plenty of moisturizer — to help counteract it.
It’s no surprise that your skin is drier in the wintertime, but did you ever wonder why? As humidity levels drop, dry weather pulls moisture out of the air… and your skin. The same is true for warmer climates without humidity, like the desert. Try using a humidifier at nighttime to help add moisture back into the air and therefore back into your skin.
Yes, you might be able to blame your parents for your dry skin. Your filaggrin gene (FLG) creates a structural protein that plays a huge role in the moisture level of your epidermis (your skin’s most outer layer). A loss in the FLG gene can lead to a weak skin barrier and dry skin. Dermatologists can do blood work to determine if this is the cause of your dry skin, but it’s often a last resort after trying a variety of lifestyle changes.
The bottom line
Whether you suffer from seasonal or on-going dry skin, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. However, a few remedies can help counteract the irritation. Understanding the causes of dry skin is the first step to relieving it on your own. Hopefully after learning the reasons and remedies, you’ll never have to ask yourself what causes dry skin again. If after you make the necessary lifestyle tweaks, you’re still finding your skin to be dry, consult your dermatologist.