Banishing Dry Skin For Good
Dry skin is a commonly occurring condition caused by reduced moisture content in the epidermis, which is the uppermost layer of the skin. The epidermis consists of fats or lipids and protein. When the amount of the protective fatty oils reduce, the skin loses moisture faster. Dry skin can result in xerosis or xerodermatitis. As the skin dries, it becomes very sensitive and rashes can appear leading to skin breakdown. This is called xerosis. The appearance of red rashes due to skin irritation is called xerodermatitis. Usually, the skin on the forearms, hands, abdomen, lower legs, ankles and soles are more susceptible to dryness. Skin which is subject to continuous friction due to continuous rubbing against clothes is easily prone to this condition.
SYMPTOMS OF DRY SKIN
Dryness of the skin can be mild or severe, short term or long term. It varies from individual to individual and depends on many external and individual factors. Skin when dry, can show the following symptoms, although not everyone will experience all of them simultaneously:
- A dry powder like layer can appear on the skin surface
- Appearance of dry patches or small fine flakes
- Dry skin is most commonly characterised by itching
- Rough, dry patches and rash formation as dryness increases
- Skin may become thicker, leather like and darken
- Appearance of small, reddish bumps on the skin surface
- Severe dryness can result in cracks or fissures forming on the skin
- The‘itch-scratch’ cycle when the itchy feeling is followed by a scratch response from the individual which further irritates the skin and increases the itch and is followed by more scratching. This exacerbates the condition.
- Secondary bacterial infection if the skin is cut while scratching
CAUSES OF DRY SKIN
Understanding the causes of dry skin helps you avoid the cause factors and prevent dry skin condition. The cause factors can be external or internal.
Common external factors
- The use of harsh soaps and over use of alcoholic cleaning agents like sanitisers which remove the skin’s natural oils and cause dryness.
- Inadequate or improper use of moisturisers can also cause dry skin.
- Some clothing materials like wool and synthetic fibres irritate the skin and the continuous friction and rubbing between the cloth and skin can cause itching.
- Dry skin is commonly seen in cold temperatures and a low humidity environment. In cold countries, it happens, especially during winters when a central heater is used and can worsen the existing dryness.
- Dry skin may rarely be a side effect of medications. Some medicines used for treating acne, anti-histamines, and drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol can also cause dryness.
Common Internal factors
The factors are related to the individual’s age, family history, genetics, personal medical history and health. Dry skin is more common in individuals with a history of eczema. Individuals who have suffered from atopic dermatitis, or have thyroid diseases are more susceptible to dry skin. The elderly are also prone to dry skin than younger people as their skin has lower amounts of natural oils and lubricants. Dry skin, also sometimes co-exist with diseases like diabetes, psoriasis, hyperthyroidism, eczema and malnutrition.
PREVENTION AND CURE
Dry skin when severe can result in rashes and eczema. Excessive scratching can wound the skin and cut open the bumps leading to bacterial infection. However the good news is that it is a disease which rarely causes complications. Here are some effective ways of tackling the dryness of skin:
- Use a humidifier during dry climates and winters. Set the humidity control near 60%. This will help to replenish the moisture content of the epidermis.
- Bathe or shower only once a day. Use lukewarm water while bathing. Try to limit the duration of the bath or shower to 5-10 minutes. Bathing more frequently and for longer durations removes the skin’s oils. Using hot water can also have the same effect. Once the skin’s natural oils are removed it dries out faster.
- Use soaps as less as possible. Avoid deodorant or perfumed soaps. Many cleansers and sanitisers also have alcohol content which can dry out the skin. Check the product labels before purchasing them. Avoid those with alcohol content and stick to products like moisturising soaps and soap-free cleansers.
- Do not use bath sponges, scrubbers and washcloths as these can easily damage the skin. While toweling and drying after a bath or shower, take care to pat or blot dry instead of rubbing against the skin with a dry cloth. Increased friction and abrasion can cause skin irritation.
- Apply moisturiser soon after bathing or washing hands. This helps to seal in moisture while the skin is still damp.
- Ensure that moisturisers are used adequately. A well moisturised skin will not have a dry powdery or scaly appearance.
- To reduce greasiness of thick creams and petroleum jelly, take a little amount in hand and rub it into the dry skin until it is no longer feels greasy.
- Make a conscious effort to avoid scratching. The itch can be reduced by using a moisturiser. A cold pack or compress can also be used for this purpose.
- Avoid fabric softeners and use detergents which are fragrance free. Fragrance causing chemicals usually irritate the skin.
- Avoid clothes made of wool and skin irritating fabrics or ensure that they do not come in direct contact with the skin.
- Excessive itching can be controlled by topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines. This will help to prevent the itch-scratch cycle.
- In case of secondary bacterial infection of broken skin, topical or oral antibiotics can be used.
If the skin condition has been confirmed as dry skin by observing the symptoms, the next step is to identify the cause factors. This can be done through a careful examination of the individual’s daily habits and lifestyle as well as personal history with respect to medications, susceptibility to diseases and general health. Once the cause factors have been zeroed in, dry skin can be easily treated and prevented. Consult your doctor if home remedies fail to ease your dry skin condition.