Dry Skin on the Body
Dry skin can be a life-long curse, taking considerable amounts of time, effort and money to keep under control.
If you have a tendency towards dry skin then it’s worth taking the time to understand exactly what’s going on and why, so that you stand the best chance possible of tackling it at its root and finding a skincare routine that works for you and your own unique skin.
How Does Healthy Skin Work?
Think of your skin as a kind of protective film or maybe as a piece of clothing like a raincoat, the final external membrane that your body needs to protect itself from the outside world.
It works as protection from irritants, micro-organisms, the weather etc. and needs to be kept in good condition to continue to work as a good, waterproof barrier to whatever the world flings at you. Just, you could say, like a pair of tough outdoor walking boots need to be looked after, treated regularly with waterproofing dubbin and polish to keep them supple, and repaired if damaged.
Healthy, well-hydrated skin produces just the right amount of oil and cell-building materials to keep the epidermis (the very thin top layer of skin) functioning well as a barrier and constantly replenishing itself on a 28 day cycle of regeneration, shedding old cells and building itself new defences.
What Happens if Your Skin Dries Out?
When the epidermis isn’t working well, it can’t protect the skin from external irritants, diseases such as viruses or bacteria, extremes of heat or cold, UV rays etc.
The skin also loses moisture and without water the skin is less able to build itself new defences.
The regenerative cycle is hampered, and skin can become damaged and sore.
Where On Your Body Can Dry Skin Occur?
Dry skin can happen anywhere on the body, anywhere there’s skin, in fact!
But because skin on different parts of the body has slightly different functions in terms of what it needs to be able to feel and how much it needs to be able to sweat, skin on your face is different in texture, sensitivity and in thickness to the skin on the soles of your feet or the skin on your knees.
Some areas of your body are definitely more prone to suffering from dry skin than others.
Some of the areas that are generally prone to dryness include:
● Lower legs
● Soles of feet
How does it feel?
Dry skin can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but none of them is much fun! It may be that your hands feel dry and a bit uncomfortable after a long session of washing-up, or it may be that the skin on your face is tight, sore and sensitive after being in a hot, dry, centrally-heated house. The sensation might be a bit different, but the cause – the fragility of the epidermis – is similar.
- Itch: sometimes damage to the epidermis from dryness means that its function as a barrier to micro-organisms and irritants is faulty and they can pass through the deeper layers of the skin. When the body detects foreign invaders like bacteria or harmful chemicals, it sets up an inflammatory response as a defence mechanism, firing histamine into the area. One of the symptoms of that histamine response is itch.
- Sensitivity: increased sensitivity can result from the skin having a damaged barrier function, because the skin will not be as protected from chemicals and irritants. A more fragile topmost layer is also likely to result in decreased protection to the nerve endings, meaning that the skin is more sensitive to temperature and sensation.
- Soreness: dehydration and inflammation can mean that the skin gets thinner, more likely to get cracked, and sore. A raw, sore, dry skin that can’t repair itself effectively can result in some really quite deep cracks which can be painful and uncomfortable.
- Tightness: dehydration and damage to the epidermis can result in decreased elasticity, so the skin can feel tight and uncomfortable.
How does it look?
Dry skin can manifest in various ways but the most common ways it looks:
- Roughened thickened patches
- Sore, raw patches
- Inflammation or swelling
What Causes Dry Skin?
The causes of dry skin fall into one of two main camps: external triggers and internal issues.
External causes of dry skin basically consist of environmental factors that can aggravate pre-existing conditions or cause dryness just by themselves.
- Weather: ie the heat of the sun; cold, dry air; low humidity; UV rays
- Water: washing hands often at home or for work; bathing, particularly taking long hot baths rather than showering.
- Irritants: substances such as harsh chemicals; soaps and detergents
- Dry environments: having central heating on; flying; hot, dry workplaces
- Clothing: some fabrics - not just synthetic fabrics such as polyester etc. but also some natural fabrics such as wool - can irritate skin
- Medication: some medication can cause dry skin or exacerbate existing skin conditions – check with your pharmacist.
Internal causes of dry skin are all about what is happening in your own body, regardless of the environment you’re in.
- Genetic tendencies: family tendencies towards atopic spectrum conditions, such as eczema, asthma and hay fever, can mean that some people have an increased susceptibility towards sore, dry skin.
- Illness: various illnesses and conditions - such as diabetes and thyroid problems - can result in dry skin.
- Hormones: people are more susceptible to dry skin at various times in their life, such as during pregnancy, peri-menopause, adolescence etc.
- Diet: nutrition plays a huge part in skin health; if you’re not getting enough of the nutrients that feed the skin then your skin may be less robust and supple.
- Age: aging skin is more fragile, thinner and more likely to be dry and sensitive.
Caring for dry skin on the body
In order to look after your skin and keep it hydrated, healthy and comfortable, you need to be aware of likely internal and external causes of dry skin. Here are some simple measures you can take to keep your skin in the best condition possible:
- Break the itch-scratch cycle with soothing emollients and behavioural changes
- Moisturise frequently, especially when skin is wet after bathing
- Nourish your skin with nutrients in your daily diet
- Avoid external irritants such as harsh chemicals or detergents
- Wear gloves when washing-up
- Take short, luke-warm baths or showers rather than very hot long baths
- Be aware of which fabrics irritate your skin
- Use good protection in the sun
- Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water