Several elements contribute to the development of dry skin including age, climate, extreme temperatures (heat and hot water), insufficient use of moisturizer, and excessive use of harsh soaps and alcohol-based cleansers.
In general, mature skin is not able to hold onto moisture as well as younger skin. In other words, an older person needs to use more moisturizer and less soap. Prolonged exposure to water can also remove moisture from your skin. The use of warm or hot water while bathing can actually activate itch receptors in your skin and repeated exposure leaves your skin even drier. Another contributing factor is climate. It is usually less humid (= air moisture) during the winter than the summer, which makes people more likely to develop dry skin or even eczematous dermatitis. Heaters are often turned on in the winter, which further reduces the relative humidity indoors and makes dry skin worse.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent or improve dry skin:
- Select a good moisturizer. The risk of skin irritation and sensitization is higher when the skin barrier is broken (e.g. cuts or cracks) so it’s very important to choose a moisturizer with minimal irritants, and skin allergens.
- Choose a moisturizer that you can commit to using regularly. Generally, ointments and creams moisturize better than lotions. You may prefer to use a cream during the day since it isn’t as greasy or sticky as an ointment. But an ointment is great for overnight relief. Remember that ointments generally have petrolatum and/or lanolin which may clog pores and make acne worse.
- MOISTURIZE as much as possible, every day (and night)! It’s important to reapply your moisturizer as frequently as possible, especially after hand-washing, swimming or bathing.
- Avoid alcohol-based cleansers (e.g. Purell) as much as possible since alcohol leaves your skin drier, and not to mention it will sting if you have cuts or cracks on your skin. It would actually be better to wash your hands with gentle cleanser and water.
- Reduce exposure to hot water and the amount of time you are exposed to water. Try using gentler cleansers, tepid water, and applying moisturizer immediately after bathing or swimming.
Don’t ignore dry skin, since it may progress to eczematous dermatitis, which is characterized by persistent itching, inflammation, and rash. If this happens to you and nothing seems to help, you may need to be evaluated by a dermatologist.