We all look forward to summer and the feeling of having the sun on our skin, but did you know that the heat from the dry summer air can cause dry skin? Many of us often ignore dry skin or are unsure of the causes and how to combat it.
Why does your skin become dry?
Our skin is a protective barrier to harmful external, environmental factors which also helps keep the nutrients and fluids within our body, and there is a perfect balance. Whenever this balance is interrupted, it can cause a break-down in the barrier which can cause the skin to lose water and become dry. You may recognise some of the terms used for dry skin, such as Xerosis, Xeroderma or Asteatosis (lack of fat), from moisturisers you can buy.
What disrupts the barrier?
- Environmental factors
- Extremes of hot and cold temperatures, low humidity, windy conditions
- Excessive air conditioning
- Direct heat from fire, central heating
- Excessive bathing, long showers
- Soaps, detergents, solvents
- Alcohol gels, topical cream/solutions containing alcohol
- Friction from rough/abrasive clothing
- Hormonal factors and medical conditions
- Underactive thyroid
- Kidney problems
- Weight loss, malnutrition
- Aging process
- Nearly everyone over 60 has problems with dry skin
- Genetic factors
- There are hereditary conditions linked to genes that cause dry skin
Why do we itch?
Dry skin is one of the main reasons for us to itch. Itching causes proteins to be released in the skin, which actually make you want to scratch more, so we itch again, and more proteins are released - and the cycle continues! We need to break this cycle.
What can help your dry skin?
Moisturisers – these are your friends for life! And, they have many benefits for dry skin
- they reduce itchiness
- they help improve the function of the skin to act as a barrier to external factors
- they prevent bacteria getting into the skin which can cause infections
- they reduce water loss, so they help to keep you hydrated
Which moisturisers (also known as emollients) are the best for me?
It’s simple the best moisturiser is the one that works for you. You may have to try out a few before you find the one, but once you find it, it will be the best friend for your skin. A few examples of moisturisers available are Cetraben, Epaderm or Aveeno.
Which is best - cream or ointment?
Creams are easily absorbed by the skin and work well for the daytime. Ointments, on the other hand, are thicker and tend to form a barrier which helps hydrate your skin. If you have severe dry skin tend to use ointments in the evening or overnight. Try to avoid lotions; they can be irritating and often contain an alcohol which can dry the skin.
How to use an emollient or moisturiser:
- Use plenty and use it all over
- Apply to damp skin after a bath or shower. This will help trap the water in your skin.
- You can use them instead of soap in the shower or bath
- When using a tub, use a spatula or spoon to scoop the cream or ointment out, to avoid contaminating the stuff still in the tub
- These creams can come in large tubs or pumps, put some into a smaller container to carry with you when you’re out and about. This way you can use it whenever you have an itch or after you wash and dry your hands. You can purchase travel containers from many pharmacies and supermarkets.
- Keep the creams in a fridge. They will be nice and cool when you put them on which is soothing and can also help with any itching.
What other things can I do to help dry skin?
- Reduce the frequency of showers and baths
- When bathing, close the door to trap the increased humidity
- Reduce the time you take in the shower or bath to 10 minutes
- Wash with an emollient or gentle cleanser instead of soap or shower gel
- Blot your skin dry with a soft towel rather than rubbing your skin
- Choose non- irritating fabric for clothes such as cotton or silk. You could wear these under clothes made from “rougher” fabrics
- Choose a washing detergent that is gentle and non-biological. If they are “hypo-allergenic”, they tend to be milder for the skin
- Add moisture to the air by using a humidifier inside at home
- Avoid sitting next to a fire or radiator to keep warm
- Wear gloves, especially in winter
If you still need advice or help regarding dry skin, you can also book an appointment with one of our GPs or Advanced Nurse Practitioners (ANPs) today. Book now.