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Dry skin, especially when it starts flaking off in an obvious, rather unappealing way, is quite annoying, to say the least. It can be a running problem all year, it can be seasonal (it often becomes more prevalent in winter), or it can come and go sporadically for no apparent reason, but regardless, it’s a thorn in the side of many, many a human. So let’s talk about what causes it, how to recognize symptoms and connect them to their root cause, and how to fix it.
Dry skin can feel scratchy and itchy and have a rough appearance. Your skin may feel tight all the time, especially after getting drenched, be it by rain, a shower, the swimming pool…you get the idea. It can flake, peel, scale off, and cause fine lines or even (gasp) painful cracks, that can bleed if they run sufficiently deep. Your skin may get red. If you have dark skin, it may start looking ashy and grayish.
It’s usually something you can fix on your own (though seeing a dermatologist can always help) but if your skin isn’t improving despite thorough efforts on your part after a couple weeks, or you start getting open sores or infections on spots you scratch too much, if the itchiness interferes with your sleep, or if peeling/scaling skin areas get worse instead of better, call a doctor a.s.a.p.
There are a lot of potential causes of dry skin, so you’ll have to take careful inventory of what you do in your day-to-day life that could be hampering your skin’s health. We recommend taking notes on your activities for a few days and writing down if any of the following apply to you:
- If you take too-hot showers or swim in chlorinated pools very often; these things can dry your skin.
- If you forget to use broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen every day and reapply every couple hours (regardless of the weather or season).
- If it’s winter right now. Whipping winds and stinging cold, dry air doesn’t help your skin much.
- If you use central air conditioning or heating indoors; both reduce the humidity inside and can dry out your skin.
- If you use harsh soaps or cleansers.
First off, if anything on the above list applies to you, endeavor to make lifestyle changes to help correct it. If you dry out the air in your home from air conditioning or heating, get a humidifier. If it’s winter, wear a scarf over your mouth, moisturize well before and after going out, and dress warmly. If your showers are too long and too hot, adjust. You get the idea.
Second, build an effective skincare routine or revamp your current one. You’ll want to use a thick, hydrating night cream and a lighter, protective day cream with SPF in it, consider adding a dab of oil to your face (coconut oil is great for that) as the final step of your skincare routine, or mix it in with your moisturizer. Make sure you’re cleansing your skin of makeup at night, before applying your night cream.
And stay hydrated! Keep water near you at all times. Sip when you feel like sipping. It’s not usually necessary to measure your water intake, but you need to have a glass of water or a full water bottle within arm’s reach all the time. Your body will tell you when you need it, you just need to have it with you and ready to go.
Exfoliation is also key when it comes to dry skin. You need to get the dry, dead cells off quickly and evenly, so exfoliate once to twice a day, and consider using a chemical peel as an alternative to a physical exfoliant. Glycolic acid is especially good for this.
All else failing, make an appointment with a dermatologist. They can offer personalized, custom treatments and prescriptions to address your specific concerns.