The skin dries when it lacks water , quite simply. It becomes rough and less flexible. To stay well hydrated, the skin needs a thin protective layer of fat on its surface, because the fat slows the evaporation of water.
Almost everyone has areas of dry skin , occasionally. With age, the skin tends to be drier because the sebaceous glands, which produce the fatty substance on the surface of the skin (sebum), are less active.
Dry skin makes wrinkles more noticeable but does not affect their formation. The appearance of wrinkles is mostly influenced by age and heredity. In this regard, see our Aging Skin report.
Causes of Dry skin
In addition to age, dehydration of the skin depends on many factors.
- Low humidity, due to cold weather and dry or heating residential. The cooler the air, the more moisture it absorbs through the skin. This is why the skin is often drier in winter;
- The bathroom with hot water and the frequent use of soaps , which takes away some of the protective layer of fat to the surface of the skin;
- Exposure to wind and sun.
For more information, see the Risk Factors section .
In addition, constantly dry or cracked skin , with redness and itching, may be a sign of a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis. Untreated hypothyroidism can also make the skin dry.
|A protective layer to preserve
If we looked at the surface of our skin under the microscope, we would see a thin protective filmof a mixture of fatty substances and water . Fats come mainly from sebum , produced by the sebaceous glands housed in the dermis (the inner layer of the skin, thicker than the epidermis ). The water is drawn from the sweat produced by the sweat glands (also housed in the dermis) and the water present in the atmosphere.
When this natural protective film is altered, the skin dries out because the water in the skin evaporates in an accelerated manner. The main role of creams and moisturizing lotions is precisely to recreate this protective barrier to allow the skin to maintain its hydration and not to provide a source of water.
Note that the protective layer does not make the skin impermeable. The skin easily compares to the high-tech porous fabrics used in outdoor activities: it let’s virtually nothing penetrate it, while allowing moisture to escape. It is desirable that some evaporation of the water contained in the skin occurs constantly to ensure in particular the maintenance of body temperature.
When to consult?
- If there is redness or rash;
- If moisturizing creams and other skin protection measures do not solve the problem.
Dry skin: symptoms
- A “tense” skin sensation, especially after a shower, bath or swimming session because dry skin loses its elasticity;
- Skin rougher than silky;
- The peeling ;
- Thin cracks;
- Sometimes deeper cracks that can bleed.
Dry skin: people at risk
- The skin can become dehydrated regardless of its original characteristics: thick or thin, sensitive or not, reactive or not. Even a person with oily skin may have dry skin at certain times or places in the body;
- With age , the skin tends to be drier, especially in women. This tendency is often accentuated after menopause.
Dry skin: risk factors
These factors help to dry the skin:
- Very cold temperatures because the humidity is then more rare. Often, skin problems become worse during the winter;
- A hot and dry climate . In desert areas where very high temperatures reduce humidity to less than 10%, the skin may dry out quickly;
- The wind ;
- The sun . Source of heat, the sun dries the skin. The more we expose ourselves, the more the skin dries up. The damage of the sun is not limited to a drying of the superficial layers of the skin. The sun’s rays (UVA and UVB) also contribute to premature aging of the skin by affecting its structure. They can also cause skin cancer;
- The heating of houses in winter which reduces the ambient humidity;
- The bathroom with hot water, especially if they are long and frequent. Hot water dissolves some of the fatty substances on the surface of the skin;
- Frequent skin contact with soaps , household cleaners, make-up products, perfume;
- Regular swimming sessions , especially in very chlorinated water;
- An insufficient consumption of water or a significant loss of water which can occur for example as a consequence of a strong diarrhea or an intense and sustained physical exercise;
- The alcohol , due to its diuretic effect (increasing the removal of water).
Dry skin: prevention
|Basic measures to prevent dry skin|
Moisturizers and fragrances
Baths and showers
Dry skin: medical treatments
Usually, the regular use of good quality moisturizing creams or lotions as well as the implementation of the other measures described in the Prevention section help to counter the dryness of the skin.
If irritation occurs, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may provide relief.
If the problem gets worse, is very bothersome or is accompanied by redness and itching, consultation with a doctor or dermatologist is recommended. He will look for the causes of these symptoms.
The application of moisturizing cream or lotion is an effective way to rehydrate the skin. It also restores the skin’s smoothness and smooth appearance. Some products are better than others or better for a particular type of skin.
The composition of the creams is inspired by that of the film of water and fatty substances that cover the skin naturally. The creams therefore contain an aqueous portion and an oily portion. In addition to water and oil, an emulsifier – usually stearic or palmitic acid – is added to produce a uniform and stable cream. Some creams contain, in small quantities, vitamins or plant extracts with moisturizing properties. Preservatives are also found in most products.
The more consistent the cream, the higher it’s fat content and the less water it contains. Most creams on the market are light, so waterier than oily. Therefore, water is often the first ingredient on the list. The oil content usually varies between 15% and 30%.
Compared to creams, lotions apply more easily but persist for less time on the skin.
For the face , we favor even lighter products because most fats would clog the pores, causing blackheads or infections.
Let’s mention that the pH of moisturizers and soaps is also important. Favor a pH neutral (pH = 7) or slightly acidic (pH <7), which are less irritating.
|A trick to treat dry hands
Before going to bed :
Note that it is wrong to believe that moisturizers “maintain” the problem of dry skin. On the contrary, poorly treated and dehydrated skin can degenerate into more serious problems (eg dermatitis ).
|A little more about the ingredients of moisturizing products
The composition of moisturizing creams and lotions helps to maintain the hydration of the skin 2. Some ingredients are from traditional herbal medicine; their use may also be based on data from small-scale studies by manufacturers.
|Note. Other active ingredients include binders, dyes, perfumes, stabilizers, preservatives, and so on. Any skin, even if it is not particularly sensitive, can make an allergic reaction (or contact dermatitis) with one of the moisturizing ingredients. Among the most used preservatives are phenoxyethanol and parabens (methyl, propyl, ethyl, etc.). In Canada, regulation entered into force November 16, 2006 requires manufacturers of cosmetics to see the full list of ingredients in their products. This allows consumers to make more informed choices and more easily identify the ingredients they would be sensitive to.|