Helping Dry Skin

Normal skin owes its soft, supple texture to its water content. For skin to feel soft, pliable and "normal," its top layer must contain a minimum of ten percent water and ideally between 20 percent and 35 percent. To help protect the outer layer of skin from abnormal water loss, the skin's sebaceous glands produce an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is a complex mixture of fatty acids, sugars, waxes and other natural chemicals that form a protective barrier against water evaporation. If some internal or external factor depletes the skin's layer of sebum, the skin loses water and feels dry. If environmental factors overwhelm the ability of sebum to prevent water loss, the skin will shrivel and crack.

Dry skin is an extremely common problem for people of all ages. However, as we age, the skin loses moisture and may become dry, dull, flaky, and scaly. Excessive dryness can lead to severe itching and eczema. Dry skin can also exacerbate underlying skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

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The information below is organized into the following sections

1) preventing dry skin

2) treating dry skin

3) conditions related to dry skin.

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Preventing dry skin

Treating dry skin

Conditions related to dry skin

You can help to prevent dry skin by taking these steps

  • Take only one shower or bath daily. Wash with comfortably warm (not hot) water, using a soap that either has a high fat content or contains glycerin. Limit your bath time to ten to 15 minutes, and avoid scrubbing.

  • If you are an athlete, shower off quickly after a workout or game. Use warm water, and bring your own mild soap, since heavy-duty "gym" brands may be too strong.

  • When you finish your bath or shower, apply moisturizer while your skin is still wet. Petroleum jelly or a thick cream is best for sealing skin moisture.

  • Cover exposed skin when you play outdoors. If you can't wear protective clothing because of hot weather or game regulations, apply a sunscreen with a moisturizer. If you are a swimmer, apply a light layer of petroleum jelly before you enter the pool.

  • If your indoor air is dry during winter months, use a humidifier to raise the humidity level.

  • As necessary during the day, apply a moisturizer that contains at least one of the following ingredients: glycerin, urea, pyroglutamic acid, sorbitol, lactic acid, lactate salts or alpha hydroxy acids.

  • Avoid overusing antiperspirants and perfumes, since these products can dry the skin.

Call your primary-care doctor or a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin problems) if you have

  • dry skin that doesn't respond to non-prescription treatments

  • severe itching that interferes with your ability to work or sleep

  • dry skin that cracks and bleeds, or becomes red, swollen and painful.

Treating dry skin

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