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21 Very Surprising Reasons for Your Dry Skin and What to Do About it

Vogue Arabia, October 2019. Photo: Kat Irlin

If you’re wedded to the daily lubrication of your entire body but your extra layers of body cream don’t seem to be satisfying your dry skin, it could be time to look into other causes.

While dry skin seems inevitable in winter given the punishing temperatures outside and blasts of central heating indoors, they’re not the only reason our skin feels like sandpaper. In fact, if you’re wondering why your skin feels flaky and dull looking while we’re in deep summer (or so we’re told because the weather doesn’t seem to agree), it’s because dry skin does not discriminate against weather conditions.

You may experience dry skin during the summer as hot weather and high humidity levels can increases water loss from the body, leading to the dehydration of the skin. In fact, try not to focus too much on the weather as that’s likely to overshadow the real reasons for our sudden skin thirst, such as an impaired skin barrier or lack of omega fatty acids in our diet. Both of which can be a year-round issue.

What are the full symptoms of dry skin?

When your skin is parched, it can lead to severe dryness. Aside from the obvious dull and dry look, if you start noticing flakes and rough patches, as well as cracks that make you wonder if you’re secretly a snake shedding its skin, then you are suffering from dry skin. Here’s the kicker, if you then start experiencing random itchyness all over, then that can be a sure sign of dry skin too.

Sometimes your skin also starts to feel a little painful to the touch and will appear looser, lacking of elasticity, almost like a piece of parchment paper. When you get to that stage, it’s probably best to contact a dermatologist who will be able to correctly diagnose you, as those might be symptoms of more severe conditions.

Ahead the most common moisture-sappers – and all importantly, how to dissolve dead cells and get your skin back to being a smooth, flake-free canvas.

Reasons your skin is dry at a glance:

1. Weather

2. Too many hot showers

3. Room isn’t ‘moist’ enough

4. Ditching eating fruit

5. Alcohol and caffeine consumption

7. Not drinking enough water

8. Using a moisturizer that’s too heavy

9. Applying your hyaluronic acid serum all wrong

10. Skipping SPF

11. Using acne treatments and retinol

12. Not going to bed early enough

13. Over-washing without moisturizing immediately after

14. Exposure to harsh chemicals

15. Using fragranced products

16. Certain medical conditions

17. Certain medications

18. Not exfoliating enough

19. Using harsh soaps, cleansers and hard water

20. Hormonal changes

21. Genetics

22.  You’re simply aging

1. Weather

As we know during the winter months, cold air and low humidity can cause your skin to become dry and irritated. However, winter is not the only time of the year the weather will turn on your delicate skin. Any dry conditions such as a dry summer’s day, or poorly ventilated spaces like in public transport or some offices can actually trigger your skin to dry out.

2. Too many hot showers

It can be tempting to crank up the temperature in the shower, but Rick Woodin, lead dermatologist at ZO Skinhealth, warns against this guilty pleasure, explaining that “excessive heat from hot water combined with body soap will soften skin and slowly begin to strip away its natural protective barriers.”

“If you expose your skin to hot water for an extended amount of time, it’s more prone to becoming dry, red and itchy,” Rick continues. And before you jump in the tub, “baths can even be worse than showers,” he says.

Sadly, the best solution is to lower the temperature, or keep your hot showers short (around ten minutes). And, if you’re having a bath, add a few drops of oil into the water. “Also make sure to only use body soap in the essential areas only (like underarms and groin), and moisturise right after showering,” says Rick.

3. Your room isn’t ‘moist’ enough

Central heating in winter, or having your fan on during ultra balmy temperatures can sap skin of moisture. Charlotte Vøhtz, founder of Green People, advises placing bowls of water near your radiators or windows. Or, invest in a humidifier – this way, moisture will be released back into the air and your skin can benefit. Especially in the bedroom where many of us spend seven to eight hours sleeping.

4. You’ve ditched eating fruit

The absence of fruit and vegetables can have a detrimental effect on our skin. The UK’s leading nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar, Dr Marilyn Glenville, explains “what we eat has an effect on the mechanisms that are associated with skin ageing. These benefits will be reflected not only in terms of good health but also in the condition of the skin.” For instance, “vitamin C helps in the manufacturing of collagen,” says Dr Glenville, which is essential for keeping our skin looking plump, hydrated and healthy. Better start packing an orange for your afternoon snack…

It’s worth remembering that nutritional deficiencies in general could be the cause of your dry skin. A diet lacking in certain nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, can also be a contributing factor.

5. Caffeine consumption

Caffeine is a diuretic and this essentially means that it increases the product of urine. Dr Catherine Carney from Private Addiction Rehab Clinic, Delamere says: “Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that when consumed, it can cause the body to remove fluids from the blood via the body’s renal system at a faster rate.”

6. Not drinking enough water

An obvious one, but drinking enough water is an issue that many struggle to keep on top of. “To really hydrate well, the average person should consume approximately two to three litres of water per day”, says Dr Michael Barnish, Medical Director for REVIV UK. “This is water and not tea, coffee, juice or alcohol, which actually dehydrates the body, meaning we may need more water per day to keep hydrated.” So start sipping.

7. Using a moisturizer that’s too heavy

If you think you’re solving the problem by diligently layering up your face and body cream, you could be, quite literally, masking the issue. Many of us respond to dry skin by slathering on the heaviest moisturizer we can find. Dr Rekha Tailor, Medical Director of the Health & Aesthetics Clinic, says this can do more harm than good.

“Thick and greasy moisturisers can weaken the skin’s barrier function and alter the skin’s natural function of self-hydration. The skin becomes addicted to the use of moisturiser and therefore is unable to regulate itself. It is the skin’s own self-regulation that keeps it looking youthful, therefore the need for the skin to self-regulate is extremely important.”

8. Applying your hyaluronic acid serum all wrong

Hyaluronic acid is the OG of skin hydrators, with a single gram holding up to six litres of water. But there is one caveat: there must be moisture in the air for it to grab onto in the first place.

So if you’re slathering hyaluronic acid onto dry skin in a room where the heating is cranked up and humidity levels are low, you could actually be drying out your skin instead. “Hyaluronic acid will draw moisture from wherever it can find it to hydrate the surface of your face, including the deeper layers of your skin if there is no humidity in the air,” says aesthetic doctor Dr Sophie Shotter.

A good solution is to create a moisture sandwich: spritz on a face mist such as Rare Beauty Always An Optimist 4-in-1 Mist or Biossance Squalane and Hyaluronic Acid Toning Mist; apply your hyaluronic acid serum and top it all off with a ceramide moisturizer to lock hydration into the skin.

9. Skipping SPF

SPF is a year-round requirement for obvious reasons (preventing skin cancer and protecting your skin’s DNA). But did you know that UV rays are also incredibly dehydrating for skin that already skews dry, sapping it of water? For this reason make your final layer of skincare a cream-based sunscreen with ingredients such as shea butter, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to restore moisture.

10. Using acne treatments and retinol

Salicylic acid is a core tenet of many on-the-spot products as it unclogs pores and reduces the inflammation that often leads to pigmentation marks. The only downside is that it can be drying, says skin and laser expert, Debbie Thomas, “which may lead to flaking and then irritation, so it is important not to overuse it and to balance active products containing salicylic acid with nourishing ones.”

Flaky red skin is a common side effect of retinol, too, because it speeds up cell turnover and the skin’s self-exfoliation. Aesthetic doctor and skin expert Dr Ana Mansouri recommends staggering your retinol usage by “starting gently at a strength of 0.25% to 0.3% and slowly working your way up.” Also look for formulas containing niacinamide to offset the dryness.

11. Not going to bed early enough

No joke, your Netflix addiction could be drying out your skin. As entertaining as Succession is or binging sessions of Love Is Blind, limit your episodes and make sure you hit the hay early for the sake of your skin’s rejuvenation.

Lack of sleep causes pH levels to drop and skin becomes unable to produce the moisture it needs. “Getting your eight hours a night promotes a healthy lifestyle, enabling your body to rest properly and your skin to repair each day,” says Dora Walsh, Registered Nutritionist at BANT.

“If you’re finding it hard to sleep, you can help your body to drift off by following some key rules,” she continues. “Make sure you don’t eat too late or drink coffee post-lunch or alcohol. And make time to unwind and take a screen break before getting into bed.”

12. Over-washing without moisturizing immediately after

Ever since the pandemic (unlocks sad but core memory), we’ve all naturally became accustomed to washing our hands and body more frequently, with many of us opting for harsher, antibacterial products and hand sanitisers laced with high percentages of alcohol.

Granted, washing hands frequently (and despite any particular virus), should be a habit we rightly become accustomed to – just don’t forget to moisturise afterwards and, where possible, look for a hand wash and hand sanitiser that also contains hyaluronic acid. Good options include This Works Stress Check Clean Hands and Hand Shield.

13. Exposure to harsh chemicals

Exposure to harsh chemicals such as chlorine in swimming pools or chemicals in cleaning products can also cause dryness and irritation on the skin because these chemicals can disrupt the natural barrier function of the skin, leading to moisture loss and dryness.

Make sure to use protective clothing and gloves when handling chemicals, and avoiding prolonged exposure to these substances. In the case of unavoidable exposure such as, chlorine in swimming pools, use gentle, moisturizing skincare products that can help repair the skin’s barrier and replenish moisture loss.

14. Using fragranced products

Fragrance can irritate skin, causing cracked, sore patches to bloom across the body. While synthetic fragrances are often blamed for this reaction, allergic contact dermatitis can also be triggered by essential oils, which, according to skincare expert Paula Begoun, “impart scent through a volatile reaction, which can sensitize the skin.” If this is the case, try Paula’s Choice Calm Mineral Moisturizer and Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream, both of which are fragrance-free.

15. Certain medical conditions

Skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema can make your skin more prone to dryness. Seemingly unrelated conditions such as diabetes and lupus can also affect blood circulation to the hands, limbs and other body extremities, which increases the risk of dry, cracked and irritated skin.

If you’re worried that your dry skin is the result of something more serious, speak to your GP who can find the most appropriate treatment for you.

16. Certain medications

Medical drugs as we know it can always carry side effects and dry skin is a relatively common one. Some medications, such as diuretics, antihistamines, and antidepressants, can cause dehydration by increasing urine production or reducing fluid retention in the body, which leads to dehydration and consequently turn the skin dry and flaky.

Other medications, such as retinoids, isotretinoin, and some chemotherapy drugs, can also affect the skin’s natural oil production, which can also lead to dryness. These medications can reduce the production of sebum (the natural oil produced by the skin) – which helps to keep the skin moisturized and protected – so in turn, can make skin dryer.

To prevent dry skin caused by medications, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional about the potential side effects of any medications being taken.

17. Not exfoliating enough

There’s a delicate line between over exfoliating in winter and not buffing enough. In winter, skin gets extra dry so there’s an accumulation of dead cells on the skin’s surface. If you fail to remove them, they act as roadblocks to the hydrating serums and moisturisers that you’re applying. Better still, exfoliation signals to the deeper layer of skin to ramp up new cell production, which adds to its juicy glow.

18. Using harsh soaps, cleansers and hard water

Using harsh soaps or cleansers can cause dry skin because they can strip away the natural oils and moisture from the skin. The outer layer of the skin, contains natural lipids and fatty acids that help to maintain the skin’s barrier function and prevent moisture loss and by using those harsh soaps and cleansers you can actually disrupt this barrier function by removing them, which can leave the skin feeling tight, dry, and irritated.

It’s also worth taking into consideration if your home taps carry hard water. Hard water is packed with minerals like calcium and magnesium, and although they sound great, in excess they can actually disrupt your skin barrier. They can team up to strip away your skin’s natural oils and ultimately leave skin feeling very dry.

19. Hormonal changes

Fluctuations in hormones, particularly during puberty, pregnancy or menopause, can cause changes in the skin’s oil production, leading to dryness. For example, menopause can cause a decrease in oil production which can lead to dry skin and other related symptoms like itchiness and flakiness. It can also reduce moisture retention, which means that the skin now has a weaker ability to retain moisture. This can also happen during pregnancy, where hormone levels can cause the skin to become less effective at retaining water, leading to dryness.

20. Genetics

Some people may be more prone to dry skin due to genetics. Genetics can play a role in causing dry skin because some individuals may inherit genes that affect the structure and function of the skin’s natural barrier. Research has shown that some individuals may have genetic variations that affect the composition and function of the skin’s barrier, making it more susceptible to dryness and other related symptoms.

For example, some individuals may have genes that cause them to produce less natural oils, which can contribute to dry skin. While some of us are born with genes that make us more prone to health condition that causes dry skin as a symptom. Some conditions that lead to dry skin include allergies, eczema, diabetes and kidney disease.

21. You’re simply aging

Skin goes through a lot of changes in your 30s as its repair system slows down. One knock on effect is drier skin, which is also exacerbated by a steady decline in oestrogen – “a hormone that contributes to hydration and collagen levels,” adds Dr Mansouri. To compensate for a decrease in the amount of oil your skin produces, include omega fatty oils – from cold-water fish, such as salmon and mackerel, walnuts and flaxseed oil – in your diet and scan the ingredients list on your moisturiser for barrier-building ceramides.

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