Dry skin is one of the most common afflictions of skin, especially when exposed to the elements. Mature skin is more prone to dryness. Fortunately, dry skin is highly preventable and treatable. You don’t have to suffer from the discomforts of dry skin if you can learn how to keep your body’s largest organ well-hydrated.

Skin’s basic facts…

One of the skin’s main functions is to hold moisture in the body. It does so through the stratum corneum (the outermost part of the skin’s top layer, or epidermis), which is in direct contact with the environment. The epidermis produces lipids, oily substances that limit the passage of water into or out of the skin. Skin that is deficient in lipids can’t retain moisture. And with the loss of water, cracks and small cuts develop on the stratum corneum – which can trigger itchiness and introduce bacteria, and even infection, into the skin.

To detect dry skin, look out for:

Redness or itchiness. Discolouration and the urge to scratch may indicate that your skin is not properly hydrated. It is crying for moisture, and the more you scratch, the drier is becomes.

Overexposure to the elements. Areas that are uncovered, such as the face, bear the brunt of moisture-zapping elements such as sun and wind, but your arms, legs and feet are also susceptible to dryness because they have few oil glands to keep them lubricated. You need to pay extra attention to all exposed areas.

Allergic skin inflammations. Skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis are caused by allergies and are more common today, perhaps due to the modern living conditions. Stress, anxiety, fatigue, poor diet and pollution worsen the problem.

Advance age. As we get older, our oil glands produce less sebum (oil), which further dries out the skin. Mature skin requires more moisture and you should choose rich creams, lotions and body oils.

Simple solutions to dryness…

Avoid long baths. It is tempting to take a long, hot bath or shower, especially when its chilly in the mornings, but dermatologists recommend keeping bath time down to three minutes and washing with warm, not hot water to avoid rinsing away skin protective oils. If you wish to have a long-relaxing bath, leave it for the weekends and ensure the water is not too hot.

Use mild soaps. Cleanse with mild, fragrance free body and face washes. Scents can irritate dry skin so avoid perfumed products. Go for bar soaps or moisturizing body washes specially made with ingredients that help relieve skin dryness, such as proteins and essential oils.

Soak in hydrating bath gels. If you prefer a bathtub, mix the water with a few drops of oil such as olive, peanut or sweet almond, and add a moisturizing soaking bath gels. There are many bath products available from supermarkets.

Moisturize often. Apply cream or lotion with hydrating ingredients like glycerin and urea, which bind moisture to skin, after showering in the morning and again before going to bed. Use your moisturizer soon after getting off the bath or shower after drying excess water. The easiest way to stave off dryness is to seal water into your skin with cream or oil and you achieve best results when your skin is still wet. You will get excellent body moisturizers from supermarkets.

Use essential oils. These are excellent skin-soothers and healers and can calm many of the symptoms of dry skin, particularly inflammation, itchiness and infection. The best oils include birch, bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile (itchy skin), cypress, violet (soothing and anti-inflammatory), lavender, geranium, myrrh (healing of dry skin), marigold (soothing contact dermatitis and psoriasis), sandalwood (excellent for extra-dry skin), and tea tree (for cracked, rough skin).

Dry skin essential oils bath soak. Add to a warm bath eight drops of myrrh and seven drops of rose and 60 ml of peanut oil and soak in it for 15 to 20 minutes. You could also try another variety of five drops each of patchouli, sandalwood and jasmine in 60 ml of sweet almond oil.

Have a balanced diet. Ensure your diet is balanced and that you have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Avoid smoking and too much alcohol.

See a dermatologist. If you try these tips and you find than your skin is still dry, visit a dermatologist to make sure you don’t have eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, or a more serious skin condition. The dermatologist will recommend a subtle prescription product after he has the correct diagnosis.

 

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Published in Nov 2012 issue