Your skin is the largest organ in the body, totalling around 20 square feet. It protects the rest of your body from the outside environment, while regulating body temperature and providing a waterproof barrier. But many people experience problems with their skin, with one of the most common skin complaints being dry skin.
Dry skin can occur at any age, and while it doesn’t usually present a serious problem, it can be uncomfortable. This guide will explain the causes, types, and skincare options for those who are experiencing dry skin, including which dry skin products to use.
In this guide:
- What causes dry skin?
- How to manage dry skin
- Skin care for dry skin
- Fortify your skin’s microbiome
- Conditions associated with dry skin
What causes dry skin?
The weather, your age, genetics, and skincare routine can all cause dry skin. But these factors are all linked to one key thing: sebum. Your skin naturally produces and secretes an oily substance called sebum, which forms a protective barrier on the skin’s surface to prevent it from drying out. If the skin doesn’t have enough sebum, it loses water, and this can lead to skin dryness.
Common causes of dry skin
Many people think that regularly cleansing skin is good for it. But washing skin too frequently can actually remove the protective layer of sebum. Excessive rubbing while washing, exfoliating scrubs, or the use of harsh soaps can all also lead to dry, flaky, and itchy skin.
Your skin draws moisture from the environment. The water content of the outermost layer of your skin (the epidermis) tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. For example, very hot, dry weather, wind, sun, and central heating in winter can evaporate water from the skin’s surface, causing it to dry out. So, following the same skincare routine year-round may not work when the weather changes.
As we age, the glands in our skin get smaller and produce less sebum. This can lead to people developing dry skin as they get older.
Wearing tight clothing made from synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon and spandex, can contribute to dry skin. This is because synthetic materials don’t breathe as well as natural fibres and can cause you to sweat more, causing irritation, which can lead to dry, itchy skin.
While dry skin isn’t typically a serious problem, it can be uncomfortable. Skin tightness, itching, cracking, and sensitivity are all common side-effects of dry skin. It can also be associated with other medical conditions like psoriasis, eczema and contact dermatitis.
How to manage dry skin
The key to preventing dry skin is to maintain the protective layer of sebum that your skin naturally produces, as well as keeping the moisture locked in. Here are some ways you can do that:
Reduce time spent in the shower or bath. Use warm, not hot, water and a gentle cleanser to prevent irritation.
Excessive cleansing or using alkaline soap can remove too much oil from the skin, causing it to dry out or making an outbreak worse. Try to look for cleansers with added moisturising ingredients to reduce the risk of dryness and irritation. If you have sensitive skin, it may be best to avoid fragranced products. Clothing detergents with strong dyes and perfumes can also contribute to dry skin.
Moisturise while your skin is still damp. Most ointments, creams, and lotions work by trapping existing moisture in your skin. Keep your moisturiser near the shower or bath and use generously every time you wash.
Using a humidifier helps to add much-needed moisture to the air and helps prevent your skin from drying out. This can be especially helpful when there is dry air outside or the heating is on inside.
Natural fibres, such as cotton and silk, are gentle against your skin and allow it to breathe. Do note though, even though wool has natural fibres, it can sometimes cause irritation to the skin.
Eat a diet rich in healthy fats like fish, walnuts, olive oil and avocados and drink lots of water.
Smoking is harmful in many ways, but when it comes to your skin, it can affect the blood flow to the epidermis, leading to coarse, dry skin.
These lifestyle changes may help to reduce the dryness of the skin, but further moisturising may still be required. Specially developed emollients can be used to soothe, hydrate, and moisturise dry skin. Soap substitutes can also be used in place of soaps and shower gels while bathing. They cleanse the skin and help lock in moisture without stripping the skin’s natural oils.
Skin care for dry skin
The best moisturisers for dry skin are those that have a combination of moisturising ingredients that hydrate the skin, lock in moisture, and soothe. There are two main type of moisturiser ingredients: occlusives and humectants . Occlusives, like mineral oil, form a barrier on the surface of the skin to lock in moisture. Humectants, like glycerine, draw moisture up from lower layers of skin and from humid conditions in the atmosphere.
Ingredients that help moisturise and soothe dry skin include:
Caring for dry skin on the face
Moisturising dry skin creams are good for daytime use, as they’re absorbed quickly and aren’t too greasy for daily wear. Night creams tend to be thicker and can help to keep your face moisturised as you sleep .
There are lots of different types of leave-on emollient that can be applied directly to dry skin on the face. These products create a protective barrier over the skin to lock in moisture and may also contain ingredients to attract moisture to the skin. Additionally, some have added ingredients to soothe itchy, dry skin, or for additional benefits such as added sun protection.
Products containing oats can help nourish the skin’s moisture barrier and soothe and calm the skin. AVEENO® CALM + RESTORE™ Oat Gel Face Moisturiser and Triple Oat Serum both contain oat extract to soothe and intensely hydrate skin on the face.
Products for dry skin on the body
Lotions are a good option for hairy areas of skin because they’re thin and spread easily.
AVEENO® Daily Moisturising Body Lotion is formulated with Prebiotic Colloidal Oatmeal. It moisturises for a full 24 hours, leaving your skin feeling soft, smooth, and naturally healthy looking. It helps reinforce the skin’s natural barrier, with a fast-absorbing formula that locks in moisture to help protect and nourish normal to dry skin.
Best products for dry hands and feet
Frequent hand washing is important but it can lead to the skin on the hands becoming sore, chapped, and dry. Certain professions can also cause hands and feet to get dry. Your skin can become dry due to the requirement to wash hands frequently, as well as exposure to chemicals and biological materials if you work in certain industries such as:
Help prevent and care for dry hands and feet with moisturising products. Take time to pamper them with moisturisers designed for dry skin. AVEENO® Daily Moisturising Hand Cream with Prebiotic Colloidal Oatmeal, soothes and softens, for smooth and healthy-looking hands in just minutes. It also helps protect and nourish normal to dry hands even through washing, with a fast-absorbing formula that works for 24 hours.
Fortify your skin’s microbiome
Your skin has a diverse community of good and bad bacteria that make up what is called its microbiome. Healthy-looking skin has a balanced microbiome and preserved skin barrier. The ecosystem of dry skin is fragile, the skin barrier can be compromised, and the microbiome is more prone to becoming out of balance.
Think of your skin barrier and microbiome as a barrier wall that protects everything beneath it – keeping good things in and bad things out. The wall can be weakened by external aggressors like weather, pollution and lifestyle. Itching and dryness are signs of a compromised skin barrier and an unbalanced microbiome.
Much like our gut relies on active probiotics and other gut bacteria to restore health, the biome of the skin needs to maintain certain bacteria to keep the skin looking healthy. Prebiotics are food for probiotics and the microbiome. In skincare, prebiotics like colloidal oatmeal encourage the presence of good bacteria, which can help create a healthy environment for the skin microbiome.
Conditions associated with dry skin
Certain skin conditions can also result in dry skin. Skin dryness is a symptom of some skin conditions, including:
Eczema is the umbrella term for a group of skin conditions that cause skin to become dry and irritated. The most common type of eczema is atopic eczema, a condition which causes sore, itchy, dry, and cracked skin.
Atopic eczema most commonly affects the hands, inside elbows, backs of knees, face and scalp. It may appear in small patches but can also present all over the body. The inflamed skin appears red on lighter skin and dark brown, purple, or grey on darker skin.
Atopic eczema is usually a long-term condition and is more common in children and infants, but it can improve significantly and even clear completely in children as they get older. Adults can also develop eczema. People with atopic eczema may experience periods where the symptoms become less noticeable, as well as flare-ups where the condition becomes more severe.
Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema which is triggered by contact with a particular substance. It causes skin to become blistered, dry, cracked, and itchy. Lighter skin usually becomes red, while darker skin can become purple, grey, or dark brown.
Exposure to either an allergen or an irritant, such as soaps, detergents, solvents, and nickel can cause contact dermatitis. Dermatitis usually flares up within a few hours or days of contact with the irritant or allergen. It can appear anywhere on the body which has been exposed to the irritant but is most common on the hands and face, as these are the most exposed areas of skin.
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes scaly, flaky patches which can become itchy or sore. The patches can look pink or red on white skin, with white or silvery scales. On brown or black skin, the patches may be pink, red, purple, or dark brown, with white or grey scales. Psoriasis patches are commonly found on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back, but can appear anywhere on the body.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects around two in 100 people in the UK. It can develop at any age, but most often develops between the ages of 20 to 30 and 50 to 60. The severity of the condition can vary from person to person, and it often involves periods where symptoms are more severe, and periods where they’re milder.
- Limit time in the shower or bath
- Avoid harsh soaps and cleaning products
- Moisturise immediately after washing
- Use a humidifier
- Choose fabrics that are kind to your skin
- Change up your diet
- Stop smoking
- Colloidal oatmeal
- Mineral oil
- Food service