Your skin is the largest organ of your body, taking up over 20 square feet. It protects the internal organs from water, dust, microbes, heat, and cold. The outermost layer called the epidermis controls our sense of touch and contains the pigment called melanin, which decides our skin tone.
A lack of moisture in the epidermis leads to dry skin, also known as xerosis or xeroderma. It is a common condition that affects people of all ages although, as you get older, the oil glands produce less oil and the skin becomes thinner so, it can be more evident as you age. Another factor may just be genetics, contributing to a dry skin type. It’s characterised by rough, flaky skin, either in dry patches or all over the body.
A combination of 2 things leads to dry skin, deterioration of the outer protective barrier of the epidermis, made up of natural oils, and a lack of water retention in the skin.
Signs of dry skin
The most telltale sign of dry skin is rough, textured skin that feels like sandpaper. Although the skin is not necessarily made to be smooth, such texture is also not a good sign. Oftentimes, our skin feels rough and tight after washing our face or doing the dishes, this is because soap dissolves the natural oils that protect the skin and cause it to dry out.
Dull skin is another sign of dryness. A lack of moisture obviously leads to no glow on your skin but in addition to this, the skin has difficulty shedding the outermost layer and regenerating enough new cells to keep your skin looking bright and fresh. This leads to an accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin, causing a lackluster complexion and clogged pores.
One symptom to especially look out for is skin sensitivity; this manifests itself in the form of redness, itchiness, and irritation when exposed to certain chemicals, or even just heat or cold, etc. It happens because, as the moisture barrier of the skin is broken, bacteria and dust can penetrate deep into the epidermis and irritate it.
Lastly, beware of an increased amount of fine lines and wrinkles on your forehead, near the eyes as crow feet and defined smile lines. Although these come naturally with age, ageing accelerates when you have dry skin.
How to heal the skin
We have all heard the saying that prevention is better than cure and this stands true in this case as well. The best way to heal dry skin is to prevent it from getting dry and healing the moisture barrier. For this purpose, you should switch to using very gentle body and face washes that don’t completely strip the skin’s upper layer.
Consider buying yourself a pampering basket, which typically includes very gentle, moisturising products to provide a luxurious feel. Adding to the prevention strategy, steer clear of certain chemicals in all of your products that tend to dry the skin out unless it is formulated in a moisturising, gentle way. Salicylic acid and retinol are a couple of the popular chemicals that tend to be drying for the skin.
Try to introduce lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and excess sodium because these cause water to be drained out of the body quickly, leading to dehydration. Hair, skin, and nail supplements will also contribute a great deal to improving your skin texture and hydration as these tend to have collagen, which is great for making the skin silky smooth, and firm.
Obviously, moisturising is the key to having soft, supple skin. If your skin immediately absorbs all the moisturiser, this is also a sign of dehydration but that does not mean you need to keep reapplying it as this could cause clogged pores. Use moisturisers that are gentle on the skin with moisturising ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and squalene.
For your hands, use hand creams over regular lotion as they tend to need a thicker barrier due to more frequent washing.
When to see a doctor
In some cases, none of these remedies will help out; this is because the issue is a more serious skin condition and requires professional attention from a dermatologist. If your skin has formed large, scaly patches that just do not seem like they want to be moisturised, it may signify psoriasis. Similarly, excessively dry and irritated, red skin could be eczema, and dry flaky soles could be caused by athlete’s foot, a type of fungal infection.
These are just a few conditions that require much more than just moisture to heal; your dermatologist might even prescribe some oral medication along with over-the-counter creams containing steroids. Bottom line: look out for extremely dry, scaly skin, rashes, cracks and bleeding, and excessive pain.