Frustrating and common, dry skin is caused by a seemingly endless number of factors. Odds are, you’re already trying to do all you can to care for your skin. You may be able to make your daily routine more effective, though, if you understand some of the reasons why your skin sometimes seems extra-irritated. Here are five common causes of dry skin.
1. Lack of Humidity
Although both heat and humidity can affect dry skin, the latter has a more profound effect. Dry air may be the most common overall cause of dry skin. When humidity levels are low, it’s harder for your skin to retain moisture, and its protective barrier has trouble functioning effectively. Low humidity can also increase production of the stress hormone cortisol, reports a 2013 study in Experimental Dermatology Journal. This hormone then increases the risk of inflammation, rash, flaking and dull, wrinkled skin. To combat low humidity, cover exposed skin with a hat, wear gloves or mittens in the winter and use a humidifier at home.
2. Over-Indulgent Showers
If you’re like most people, you love the occasional long, hot shower. But while that warm water may feel great in the short term, it’s not kind to your skin in the long run. To help retain moisture rather than deplete it, limit bathing time to 10 minutes and use water that’s lukewarm rather than hot. As soon as you’re done, apply moisturizer to “lock in” some of the water.
3. Your Moisturizer Isn’t Working
You need a moisturizer that works for your skin type. There are hundreds of products out there, so if yours isn’t doing the job for your skin, consider a change. Specifically, try a thick, oil-containing ointment or cream instead of a lotion, especially in cold weather and dry conditions. Lotions can be more irritating and less effective at trapping moisture in for long periods of time because they’re water-based. Oil-based creams, in contrast, “lock” moisture into the skin since their oils don’t evaporate like water-based solutions.
4. Your Products Smell Great
Nicely scented lotions, soaps, cleansers, perfumes and other products are appealing, but their fragrance ingredients may be making your dry skin worse. People with dry skin are more likely to also have sensitive skin, and fragrances in skin care products are the most common cosmetic allergen, notes a 2011 study in the Journal of Allergy. Unscented, fragrance-free products tend to be gentler, less irritating and more effective at retaining natural oils in the skin. Even products that don’t come into direct contact with your skin, like laundry detergents, can make a difference.
5. It’s Age-Related
As people age, the skin thins and becomes more susceptible to itching and dryness. To combat aging-related dryness, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep and liberally apply sunscreen and moisturizer on a daily basis. Minimize irritation from dry skin by wearing loose clothing and avoiding itchy materials like wool. Since dryness can sometimes be associated with health problems such as kidney disease or diabetes, see your doctor if your dry skin becomes severe or crops up suddenly.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.