You've seen the results of dry skin, but what's going on beneath the surface? Your top layer of skin, the epidermis, is actually made of four layers - in the middle, lipids (basically, fats) surround your skin cells and help to retain moisture.
When that barrier is disrupted, your skin cells aren't held together as well, and their edges curl up - hence dry skin's rough, scaly, and dull appearance.
So what disrupts your skin barrier - and what can you do about it? While congenital factors influence some cases, dry skin is typically caused by one or several of the following culprits:
• Bathing: Frequent showers limit the skin's ability to replace natural oils. Furthermore, bathing often encompasses two other causes of dry skin: hot water and harsh detergents. Tip: After bathing, apply moisturizer while you're still damp to trap moisture on your skin.
• Harsh detergents: Anyone with dry skin should avoid products that foam, as they can remove more of your skin's valuable lipids and impair its natural ability to hydrate. Tip: Don't just look in your shower - are harsh detergents lurking around your kitchen sink or laundry room? Buy a pair of rubber gloves.
• Other chemicals: Acetone (from nail-polish remover, for example), alcohol, and fragrance additives can further irritate dry skin. Tip: If you have dry skin, avoid products with alcohol (except glycol, which can actually increase penetration of other ingredients).
• Low humidity: Dry environments - desert or wintry climates, for example - draw more moisture from your skin. Tip: If you're uncomfortable, invest in a humidifier.
• Air travel: Humidity is low in an airplane cabin, so protect your skin accordingly. (UVA penetrates those tiny windows too, so be sure to use SPF - I can't resist an opportunity to advocate sun protection!) Tip: Spray a facial water like La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water while on board to help replace the moisture a plane's cabin lacks.
• Aging: Skin becomes drier as we age. Tip: Don't hesitate to re-evaluate your skin type and the products you use.
Of course, if you're reading this from an overheated room, looking out at wintry winds, you already know another cause of dry skin: weather! Join me next time for tips on how to maintain soft, dewy skin all winter long.