If you’re fed up with flaky, itchy, and uncomfortable skin we’ve looked into what causes dry skin and how to get rid of it through diet, skincare, and more
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Maybe you’ve always had dry skin, or maybe your skin has become dry during pregnancy or after having your baby.
Maybe you’re going through menopause and your skin is dry for the first time in your life and you’re at a loss as to how to get rid of it.
Dry skin is extremely common and can affect you at different stages of your life.
It can be uncomfortable and itchy and signs that you have dry skin include having scaly or flaking patches, more visible lines, a dull or rough complexion, or your skin can feel tight and lack elasticity.
And while it may seem obvious that dry skin is the result of a lack of moisture, understanding why your skin is dry and lacks moisture can help you stop, treat or improve it.
Below we explain what causes dry skin, what products to look for and avoid, and why having dry skin isn’t always a bad thing.
If you’re not sure if your skin is dry or not (but you suspect it might be), take our skin type test to find out once and for all. This test is worth taking regularly because our skin type changes throughout the year, and as we get older and experience different life events.
“Dry skin is caused by an impaired skin barrier and dysfunction or deficiency in the necessary healthy fats in the top layer of the skin,” says dermatologist Shari Marchbein from Downtown Dermatology in NYC.
If you have dry skin, there is usually not enough water in the top layer of cells.
This is where dead skin cells and the natural oils of your skin’s top layer help trap the moisture, thus suggesting that if water is lacking, something is off with this natural barrier.
There are then a number of reasons why your skin’s barrier may not be functioning as expected, or that it’s pH balance is out of alignment.
Genetics: One cause of dry skin is your genetics. Mutations in genes that control the production of a protein called filaggrin, which plays a role in forming and hydrating your skin barrier, can mean you have a greater chance of developing dry skin, or even eczema.
Age: Like with so many skin changes, your age can lead to you having drier skin. As we get older, the amount of oil our skin produces decreases, and this is a particular issue for people over 40. You can read more in our How your skin changes in each decade of your life – and what to do about it guide.
Time of the year: Colder weather can dry your skin out in the winter, as can having the heating on. While air conditioning in the summer, or in offices all-year-round can also interfere with your skin’s humidity and hydration levels.
Washing your face too much: Washing your skin too much, or scrubbing too hard can damage your skin’s natural barrier. It could also be that you’re in the bath or shower for too long, which will also dry out your skin, as can water that’s too hot.
Harsh soaps: Another possible cause is using products that don’t work well for your skin. Harsh soaps, or not enough moisturiser can be to blame.
Vitamin B deficiency: Some people can experience a Vitamin B deficiency as a result of not getting enough Vitamin B12 from their diet. This can lead to a host of symptoms, including anaemia, fatigue as well as dull and irritated skin. You can read more in our guide to the best foods for clear, healthy skin – and why they work.
Pregnancy: If you’re pregnant your dry skin is likely to be caused by your hormones. The hormone changes can cause your skin to lose elasticity and moisture, especially in areas that are stretching to cover your growing bump. If you’ve just had a baby your skin might also be dry because of the dramatic decline of estrogen and progesterone.
Menopause: As with pregnancy, the hormone changes during menopause can cause drier skin. Even in women who have never had dry skin before. When sudden skin changes happen, especially if you’ve always had oily skin and now it’s dry, it can be confusing which dry skin products to use. You can find out more in our guide to what happens to skin and hair during menopause?
FURTHER READING: How to get rid of dry skin on feet
You don’t need us to tell you that it can be uncomfortable having dry skin. It can make you itch and lead to flaky or cracking skin, the latter being a particularly common problem for the bottom of your feet. You may also be left with a rough texture from your skin being dehydrated.
As a result, you may find your skin gets tighter in colder weather and then peels off and shreds in hotter weather. Both can be very frustrating.
Your wrinkles and fine lines are going to be more obvious if you have dry skin. There’s a myth that having dry skin actually creates wrinkles, but it’s more that your expression lines will be more apparent.
Dry skin is usually not something to be worried about, however, if you don’t take care of it, there’s also a chance it could lead to conditions such as eczema. That’s why it’s important to find the right products before it gets worse.
If your skin is cracked or bleeding, or if it’s affecting your sleep or daily activities, seek medical advice, because these could be signs of an underlying issue and your GP will be able to advise, or even prescribe, products to help.
You may think having dry skin is a bad thing, but there are also reasons to be cheerful.
The appearance of cellulite is reduced in people with dry skin because the skin is tighter.
Another visual benefit is that your pores appear smaller and you look less shiny from having less oil on your skin.
People with oily skin are far more prone to spot breakouts and acne. So by having dry skin you may have a clearer complexion.
The good news is that there are a number of options if you looking for how to get rid of dry skin and the first place to start is by boosting the moisture and hydration levels of your skin, and repairing its natural barrier.
Taking certain vitamins can help get rid of dry skin. Vitamins and nutritional supplements that include vitamin D, fish oil, collagen, and vitamin C may help improve your skin’s hydration.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s critical for the health of your skin. Studies have shown that women with low Vitamin D levels had lower average skin moisture, so if you have dry skin it’s crucial for you to get enough Vitamin D.
Fish oil contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are two essential fatty acids that boost the healing properties of your skin.
Studies have also shown fish oil to increase skin hydration, reduce water loss and resolve dryness-related skin itching.
Meanwhile, Vitamin C acts as a powerful skin-protective antioxidant and is essential for collagen production. Studies have shown that it enhances the skin barrier function and helps reduce water loss.
mamabella recommends: Holland & Barrett Marine Collagen with Vitamin C (£24.99); Exuviance Serums and Concentrates (£62)
The most obvious solution to dry skin is using a rich moisturiser every day. The purpose of a moisturiser is to prevent the loss of water in the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of your skin.
It also helps protect your skin against external damage and irritants. Using a moisturiser regularly will also help to keep your skin looking younger and fresher. You can read more in our The science of moisturiser guide.
Skin cycles last around six weeks so if you try a moisturiser and you feel like it’s not working, or it seems to make the situation worse, try to stick it out for at least six weeks to make sure.
Ingredients to avoid include:
Ingredients you should look for:
You’re also going to want to go for the most gloopy and greasy creams, particularly oil-based products, which have a thicker consistency and provide more hydration than a lotion.
mamabella recommends: CeraVe Hydrating range; Weleda Skin Food (£13.50); Cetaphil Moisturising Cream (£12)
Beyond moisturising and helping to balance your natural skin’s barrier, there are a number of things you can do to stop dry skin in the first place.
If you’re in rooms with the air conditioning or heating on, it can reduce humidity levels and therefore dry your skin out. Using a humidifier, in this case, may help to restore the moisture in the air.
We also recommend keeping your shower and bath water warm, rather than hot, and only stay in the shower for up to five minutes. It’s also a good idea to not towel dry any problem areas but instead apply moisturiser immediately, trapping moisture in as much as possible.
Kat is a freelance journalist, photographer, and the founder of Simply Gender Free – a company dedicated to smashing gender stereotypes in kids’ products. As a mum of two, Kat is passionate about making the world a better place for the next generation