Dry skin is the most common skin condition in the adult general population. It involves the stratum corneum, which is the outermost part of the epidermal layer of the skin. It is not contagious.

Skin is the largest organ of the body and comprises three layers: the epidermis being the topmost layer, the dermis situated beneath the epidermis, and the hypodermis, which is the deepest layer of the skin.

What is dry skin?

Dry skin develops when the uppermost layer of the skin (epidermis) loses its moisture and fails to regulate it, leading to its dryness accompanied by intense itching.

Dry skin, also referred to in medical language, as Xeroderma or Xerosis, is an extremely common condition in which the skin has a dry appearance with fine lines and wrinkles, giving it an aging look.

This isn’t a serious medical condition but it does give an unsightly look to the wearer especially when it appears on the face. Its symptoms, which include itching on the dry patch, can be quite mild but when complications develop, the condition demands immediate action.

This condition of the skin is usually a temporary affair and easily treatable in most cases.

Where does dry skin usually occur?

You can get dry skin anywhere on your body. However, patches dryness occur more commonly in certain parts of the body. They include:

  • Scalp
  • Arms
  • Knuckles
  • Sides of the abdomen
  • Thighs
  • Lower legs

What is very dry skin?

Very dry skin is called dermatitis. Normal skin becomes dry due to a multitude of causative factors. If left untreated, it then progresses to become extremely dry.

In cases of very dry skin, there is no or very little sebum produced by the sebaceous glands. Various factors can lead to such a condition and range from genetics to an increase in a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

However, when this extreme condition becomes chronic or severe, you should opt in for a dermatologist’s opinion. This condition may require certain prescription creams and treatment.

Dry skin causes and risk factors

The outermost layer of the skin’s epidermis is called the stratum corneum, which normally contains up to 30% of water. When this water content falls below 10%, you get dry and cracked skin.

The cause of dry skin, therefore, is decreased moisture in the outermost layer of the skin.

Usually, you treat this condition with the help of moisturizers, lotions, and creams, by using the right soaps and certain lifestyle changes.

The single most etiology of dry skin is the absence of sufficient water in the upper layer of the skin. Even if you have oily skin, it can turn dry from time to time.

Fortunately, the reasons for this dryness are more often external and can be controlled. These are the causes, which strip away the fatty oils in the skin leaving it unprotected.

However, certain lifestyle changes and the use of over-the-counter moisturizers can treat it most of the time. You could also opt for natural remedies, which are quite effective.

The following are the causes and the risk factors:

  • Exposure to cold and hot dry weather. Cold and hot weather with low humidity levels makes your skin become dry. You will see this commonly in winter and autumn and is due to low humidity levels in dry areas. When the weather is cold and dry, the water in your skin evaporates more quickly. This makes your skin dry and tight and this gives it a flaky look.
  • Use of harsh soaps. This is the most common cause of dry skin. Frequent bathing with harsh soaps causes the dryness. We often use harsh soaps, which produce a lot of lather and we scrub our skin like it is the flooring of the house. This washes off the natural oils in the skin. Use a mild soap and apply it gently to your skin. If you have dry skin, a mild skin cleanser would be great. In addition, avoid sponges and brushes to scrub your skin.
  • Bathing with hot water. Regularly bathing with hot water can cause dry skin. Hot water washes away the natural oils (sebum), which protect your skin’s moisture by controlling evaporation. To avoid this, always bathe with cold water or lukewarm water. Tap yourself with a towel and apply the moisturizer immediately while the skin is still damp. This helps to retain the sebum on the skin, thereby preventing over-evaporation and loss of moisture from the skin.
  • Use of forced air systems. The use of forced air systems in your house makes your skin go dry. The dry heat blown in the house by the forced air furnace during winter and the air conditioning during summer can cause dry skin. The use of a moisturizer and turning down the thermostat can help.
  • Certain types of clothes. Regular use of winter clothes such as those made of wool or synthetic fibers can cause itching and skin dryness. Using cotton clothes in which you feel comfortable is ideal.
  • Skin diseases. Symptoms of certain skin diseases like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis typically include patches of chronically itchy, dry, thickened skin.
  • Certain metabolic diseases. Certain diseases like hypothyroidism and diabetes cause dry skin. In hypothyroidism, low thyroid hormone levels result in decreased production of oils by the skin. In diabetes, fluctuating blood glucose levels result in dehydration, which causes your skin to dry. It can also be due to allergies caused by certain allergens.
  • Certain medications. Certain medications like diuretics, which are used to treat high blood pressure and retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives used to treat skin conditions such as acne, wrinkles, and oily skin can cause dryness of the skin. Indiscriminate use of nasal decongestants can also cause your skin to dry. You should seek a doctor’s opinion in such situations.
  • Dehydration. Loss of body fluids as in dehydration from any cause can lead to dry skin. Health and beauty professionals say that not drinking enough water leads to dehydration. This can irritate the skin and cause it to dry and lose its normal tone.
  • Malnutrition. Lack of nutrition to the skin causes it to become dry. Malnutrition leads to vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies of vitamin B12, vitamin B3, and vitamin B6 are known to cause itchy and dry skin. Vitamin C is vital for collagen production and its deficiency may lead to premature aging and dryness of the skin. Another vitamin that is important for skin health is vitamin A. Its deficiency can also lead to skin dryness. A hallmark sign of vitamin D deficiency is dry, itchy skin on the face, which can extend to the cheeks, chin, and forehead. In severe cases of vitamin D deficiency, you may also see the development of eczema.
  • Age. Advancing age, especially in women, can cause dry skin due to changes in hormonal levels. 75% of the people who have crossed 65 years of age have this condition. This is because as we age our skin condition deteriorates. The sebaceous glands produce less sebum, which is a natural emollient, and hence there is less protection against loss of water from the skin. Secondly, due to reduce sweat levels there is an increased tendency to develop skin dryness.
  • Genetically prone dry skin. Some people are genetically prone to having this skin condition. Such genetic skin conditions include atopic dermatitis (eczema) and Ichthyosis Vulgaris, which is a severe scaly skin condition, often seen in the front of the lower legs.
  • Using the wrong type of moisturizer. Always seek advice about the right type of moisturizer for your type of skin. And, use the moisturizer when your skin is still moist after washing or bathing. Tap your face with the towel to remove the wetness and use the moisturizer when your skin is still moist and not when it is completely dry.
  • Regular and prolonged exposure to the sun. The sun can play a major role in causing severely dry skin. Too much exposure to the UV rays of the sun dries up the top layers of the skin, which lose moisture and eventually suffer from sunburn. To protect yourself from this adverse effect of sunlight exposure, use sunscreen to shield the exposed parts of the body, and wear a long-sleeved shirt and a cap.
  • Lifestyle habits. Drinking excess alcohol can cause your skin to become. dry. Alcohol is a known diuretic and can lead to dehydration.
  • Fat-free diet. Today’s trend of fat-free diets can deprive our bodies of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). These are skin-friendly nutrients and their deficiency can lead to chronic itching, dryness, and scaling of the skin.

Causes of dry skin on the face

Dry skin on the face is not so common and when present it is itchy, looks flaky, and may show red patches. It does mar one’s appearance.

Face involvement is due to

  • dry cold weather
  • excessive washing of the face with harsh soaps
  • excessive exposure to the sun
  • smoking
  • diabetes, hypothyroidism
  • skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis

In most cases of dry skin, the use of home remedies, and over-the-counter (OTC) topical products together with lifestyle corrections can help you get rid of it.