What Causes Dry Skin?
Dry skin, dehydrated skin or xerosis to give its medical term, occurs when the skin’s moisture-holding fat or lipid layer is depleted. Causes of dry skin and lipid loss can be external (environmental) or internal (from within the body). The most common causes are environmental – cold, windy weather or dry air from central heating. For this reason, dry skin is often worse in winter.
Lipids support skin cells in a similar way to mortar in a brick wall. Just as fully intact mortar creates a strong wall, a full lipid content in the skin provides healthy structure to the skin and allows a barrier to be maintained that retains moisture:
But if the mortar is missing, a brick wall crumbles or in other words, if the skin loses it lipids and thus moisture, it becomes very dry and flaky:
As in the brick wall analogy – mortar comes under most severe attack during winter from frost and extreme temperatures. Cold or dry air simply draws moisture out of the skin, often leaving it taut, rough to the touch, and uncomfortable. Exposed areas like the lips, face and hands are likely to be affected worst.
Harsh detergents and other irritants that damage the skin’s moisture barrier can play a role in skin dehydration all year round.
Dry skin can also be due to factors within the body. Hormonal changes or dietary imbalance can both be causes of flaky, scaly skin. Sometimes dry skin is a symptom of more problematic conditions such as eczema or dermatitis (inflamed, dry and or itchy skin), as well as psoriasis (linked to the immune system).
When the skin feels dry or rough it may already have lost 80% or more of its lipids. The good news is that most dry skin conditions can easily be helped just with regular and appropriate skin care, plus a few other simple steps to mitigate the causes.
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