It starts with an itch. The one that comes hand in hand with dehydration. Dry skin -- it’s pretty uncomfortable. And sometimes it feels like it won’t ever end. You lap on moisturizer and your body just drinks it up. Then, an hour later, your legs are back to feeling drier than a sandbox. File this under “un-fun.” It’s also not news to you, but there are some more reasons, aside from it being cold outside, why it might be happening to you.
If you are regularly moisturizing, but it never seems to do anything tangible to the condition of your skin, inflammation could be the culprit. Dr. Kenneth Howe of Wexler dermatology explained, “Due to decreased amounts of oils and water content within the stratum corneum (the skin’s outermost layer), dry skin is prone to cracking. These cracks are breaches in the skin barrier that allow entry of irritants and allergens -- and so it’s quite natural for dry skin to segue into the more severe state of dry, inflamed skin.”
So, how do you know if your skin is inflamed and not just dry? Symptoms of inflammation in the skin includes itchiness, redness, increased flakiness, and sensitivity. You probably know of this condition as eczema. And of course, you probably want to know why your moisturizer isn’t cutting the mustard when you’ve arrived at that place. Dr. Howe explained, “Since moisturizers do not directly address inflammation, they often exhibit little impact on skin that has reached this state. The most common and effective treatment is a topical steroid cream or ointment, but there are some herbal medications that are useful, as well.”
Well not so much diet, but nutrition, has an impact on the moisture levels in your skin. But, as Dr. Howe pointed out, nutritional deficiencies have to be severe before they cause dry skin, thus it’s fairly rare for dry skin to be the result of a nutritional deficiency if you live in the United States.
That being said, Dr. Howe explained, “Zinc deficiency causes dry skin. And, low levels of Vitamin C cause scurvy, a condition in which the skin becomes dry and rough.”
Underlying Medical Conditions
There could be a secret medical reason for your dryness, too. According to Dr. Howe, “Occasionally we see dry skin due to an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism. Medications also cause skin dryness.” So, if your skin is chronically dry, definitely consult with a physician if you think it could be pointing to something major.
Dr. Howe says that the most unexpected yet likely cause of your dry skin is indoor heating. If your heating system is controlled by your landlord, or forced heat, it’s probably worse. “Apartments are often overheated, the moisture baked out of the air inside them, and the skin of the apartment dwellers quickly becomes dry,” explains Dr. Howe. So basically, if you are dry, the most likely culprit is your heater, so either invest in a humidifier or take it up with your landlord.
There are actually some genetic conditions that might preclude your skin moisture deficiency. Dr. Shereene Idriss, also of Wexler Dermatology, explains that atopic dermatitis could be causing your eczema and dry skin. “Most commonly, dry skin often goes hand in hand in individuals with atopic dermatitis. Although the underlying mechanism of atopic dermatitis is still unknown, it is believed to be an inherited immune condition in which the protective skin barrier is defective, leading to features of dry skin and eczema.” Another less common condition, though could be a genetic disorder called ichthyosis vulgaris. According to Dr. Idriss, this disorder can mimic the appearance of intensely dry skin, resulting in rectangular fish-like scales! This is an inherited condition in which the skin loses its ability to renew itself and slough off properly.
Your Bath/Shower Habit
This one hurts. Who doesn’t love a piping hot bath at the end of the day. I live for a good soak. Dr. Idriss broke the news gently, explaining, “The combination of hot water and soap is potent and washes away your skin's’ protective oil barrier, inducing ‘the dry itch’.” In order to avoid this, limit warm showers to ten minutes and reserve the use of soap for your privates and underarms.
Smoking and alcohol don’t do good things for your health, but for the sake of your vanity, maybe they should be limited. Smoking causes oxidative damage, reducing and blocking the delivery of oxygen to your skin. This is in turn depletes our skin of essential nourishment, leading to ruddy, discolored, and dry skin (and eventually premature aging.) Not to mention, booze is dehydrating. As a result excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to long-term nutritional deficiencies—in particular vitamin A and C. Dr. Idriss explains further, “These vitamins are essential for maintaining healthy looking skin, by retaining moisture and repairing skin damage. Without them, dry skin and loss of elasticity ensue.”
The recirculated air in airplanes is essentially moisture free. As a result, moisture will be drawn out from your skin. You’ll be left dull, dry, and maybe even broken out. So what’s a lady to do? Keep yourself hydrated from the inside out by drinking a lot of water and reapply hydrating serums and thick moisturizers regularly throughout your scheduled flight.