This article has been medically approved by Superintendent Pharmacist Shilpa Shailen Karia, MRPharmS. - GPhC Reg No: 2087328
Dry skin is a common condition that most people will suffer with at some point in their lives. In the UK, it is likely that one in five of us will suffer from dry, irritable skin at some point. Although it may not be linked to specific conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions (1), it can still be pretty uncomfortable to live with.
The symptoms usually cause red, chapped, cracked skin that can feel sore, calloused and tight. When scratched and itched, this dry skin can become more irritable and opens up, exposing you to bacteria and further inflammation. It can lead to a cycle of itchiness where, if you do keep scratching at dry patches and don’t seek proper treatment, can cause it to become worse.
The good news is, you don’t need to put up with this. Simply follow the advice below and you’ll be well on your way to having softer, smoother, supple skin.
What Causes Dry Skin?
If your skin is healthy, your sebaceous glands release an oily substance called sebum. This keeps your skin moist, supple and waterproof. Along with natural oils (lipids) and natural moisturising factors, sebum forms a barrier on the surface of your skin to keep irritants out and water in.
When your skin gets dry these natural oils aren’t produced properly. So, this barrier can’t function correctly and do its job. This causes the skin to become dry, cracked and red.
This often happens to babies and children because their oil-producing glands haven’t developed fully. In adults, dry skin is more likely to be caused by external or environmental irritants.
How Can I Treat & Manage Dry Skin?
The first thing to try for your dry skin is a complete emollient therapy.
Emollients are very effective moisturisers that help to keep your skin soft and supple. They work by restoring natural moisture, lipids and oils, creating a barrier on the skin’s surface which helps prevent more moisture loss and helps to stop bacteria getting in. (2)
To deliver a complete, effective emollient therapy, you need to develop a good daily skincare routine. Here is a sample emollient routine that may be useful for dry skin.
In the morning, wash with a soap substitute that doesn’t contain detergents. These are common in everyday soaps available on the market or over-the-counter, which causes your skin to dry up and become irritable.
Afterwards, gently pat yourself dry instead of roughly rubbing with a towel. If you are scrubbing or wiping coarsely, it can harm your skin. By lightly patting to dry yourself is much kinda on your skin.
Once dry, apply your emollient cream or lotion with clean hands in the direction of hair growth. Creams are better for soothing thick or brittle skin. Emollient lotions, however, are much lighter, it can be absorbed much quicker and it is specifically formulated for overall use.
Throughout the day, you should use a soap substitute to wash your hands. Whenever your skin becomes dry or itchy, apply an emollient cream when necessary. Do not let your skin dry out or rub it too hard.
In the evening, a short ten-minute dip in a warm bath with some emollient bath oil. This will help clean your skin, so there’s no need for soap. Again, this is free from detergents, so protects your natural moisture barrier from drying up.
Afterwards, gently pat your skin dry and apply an emollient cream or lotion while you’re still damp.
What should I avoid?
Getting to know what triggers your dry skin is the first step to understanding and treating it. We’ve put together a list of common triggers for dry, cracked skin that you might want to avoid.
- Dry, cold and windy weather
- Central heating or poor ventilation
- Chemicals, strong detergents and soaps
- Excessive contact with water
- Bath water that’s too hot (stick below 36ºC)
- Woollen clothes – go for cotton instead
- The contraceptive pill – it reduces sebum production
- Smoking – it makes the skin dirtier and causes damaging free radicals
- Getting older – as you age you produce less sebum