What Causes Dry Skin?

Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it's affected by almost everything you do. Although there's a wide range of triggers for dry skin, these eight are the most common.

Skin is affected by everything you do, eat, and experience. Move to a new climate, shift your dietary habits, or take up swimming, and your skin will change. Some changes are noticeable immediately, whereas others will accumulate over time.

The cause of your dry skin is probably one (or more) of eight common dryness triggers. One key trigger is likely to be your main issue, but several others are likely to worsen your skin's dryness. Determine which of these eight factors is affecting you, and take the necessary action to reverse their effects.


What Causes Dry Skin?


1. Changes in Hormone Levels

Every cell in our body has a protective coating, or membrane. This oily membrane keeps good substances locked into cells and bad substances locked out. This basic biology also governs the function of skin cells.

For the surface layers of our skin, this is very important. The selective permeability of our skin relies on the fact that water and oil don't mix. Skin secretes protective sebum, creating an oily barrier that not only prevents the absorption of too much water but also locks out germs that thrive on water.

Sebum is made by a sebaceous gland found within each hair follicle. This natural oil is responsible for lubricating skin (and hair), sealing in moisture, and making skin feel comfortable.

  • Dry skin produces too little sebum.
  • Normal skin produces just the right amount of sebum.
  • Oily skin produces too much sebum.
  • Combination skin has sebaceous glands that are more active in some areas.

The amount of sebum produced depends on hormonal levels—most specifically, on a family of hormones called 'androgens'. Testosterone (which women produce too) is one example of an androgen. These hormones tell our body to create sebum.

  • High levels of androgens = oily skin type
  • Low levels of androgens = dry skin type

Life changes such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause call all trigger changes in skin type. While these are major events, even work stress, intense physical exertion, and changes in diet can have an effect on your complexion.

2. Genetics

If your skin has been dry since childhood, your genes likely make it harder for your skin to retain moisture. Certain genetic codes can cause your skin's barrier to work less than optimally. This means you not only are likely to have dry skin but also are at risk of chronic dry-skin conditions such as eczema.

3. Unbalanced Diet

Food is your fuel and medicine. An unbalanced diet doesn't provide the materials that your body needs to function and regenerate.

Certain vitamins, minerals, and fats can only be obtained through diet. When you lack these nutrients, some of your body's manufacturing processes slow down or even stop. A poorly fed body leads to skin that can't hydrate and protect itself.

To help your dry skin, try upping your intake of:

  • Omega-3 fats (found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines)
  • Zinc (found in chickpeas, lentils, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts)
  • Vitamin E (found in almonds, avocados, and kale)

Supplements are useful for reversing severe or temporary deficiencies, but no pill beats the health-building properties of real food.

4. Medications

Certain medications can provoke skin dryness for one of three reasons:

  1. The active ingredient reduces sebum production.
  2. The active changes your hormone levels.
  3. The medication causes an allergic reaction (usually accompanied by a rash or irritation).

Oral medications aren't the only culprits. Retin-A, the topical prescription treatment for acne and wrinkles, is a key contributor to skin dryness.

Research the side effects of any medications you use regularly. If you suspect your medications are the cause of your dry skin, consult with your doctor for further advice.


What Causes Dry Skin?

5. Environment

You might be in the habit of checking the weather forecast before deciding whether to head to the beach or the mall. If you have dry skin, the weather report should also help you decide how to treat your skin.

Humidity levels directly affect skin just as much as they do hair. In fact, a good hair day might be a bad skin day. Dry air pulls moisture from your skin into the atmosphere. This is the law of diffusion: everything ultimately reaches balance. A humidifier and good skincare can ease dryness even in a desert climate.

6. Lifestyle


Skin reacts to all of your activities. Are you an avid swimmer? Do you often sunbathe or fly? These and many other behaviours increase stress on your skin, potentially leading to dryness.

7. Skincare

Three groups of skincare products are known to dry the skin:

  1. Soaps
  2. Foaming face and body washes
  3. Alcohol-based toners / astringents

These products interfere with the skin's biology. Just as hormones affects the skin's oil levels, skincare can have a similar effect from the outside. Harsh products promote changes within the skin that alter pH and the protective, lipid-based barrier, eventually leading to dryness.

If you use one of the above products, we recommend the following instead.

Switch soap or foaming face wash for:

Switch foaming shower gel for:

Switch alcohol-based toners and astringents for:

8. Medical Conditions

Several medical conditions have the potential to promote a dry skin type. This could be a skin condition such as dermatitis or even an autoimmune disease such as psoriasis.

If you suspect your dry skin could be the result of an underlying medical condition, please contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.


What Causes Dry Skin?

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