Causes of Itchy Dry Skin
7 Surprising Causes of Dry Skin
The general cause of itchy, dry skin might seem like a no-brainer: It's a lack of moisture. But the case isn't that cut and dried, so to speak. Some sneaky skin dehydrators lurk in surprising places. If you're looking for remedies for dry skin, check this list first to find out whether one of these offenders may be to blame for your parched skin, and find out how the experts suggest you combat these dehydrators.
"Fragrance has a tendency to irritate dry skin or make it worse, so avoid deodorants and skin care products that are filled with fragrance," says Amy Forman Taub, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Northwestern University. Check ingredients labels for the word fragrance. Body lotions and creams are common items that may do more harm than good when packed with perfumes. Look for formulas that contain ingredients like honey and vanilla, and bean-based butters like cocoa and shea, for hydration that coats skin in delicious, nondrying scents.
Nothing strips skin of moisture faster than cleansing, so carefully choosing face washes, body washes, and laundry detergents is essential for keeping skin moist. Joel Schlessinger, MD, a dermatologist in Omaha, Nebraska, warns against harsh detergents — and even fabric softeners — if you have dry skin. Instead, look for gentle laundry soaps like All Free and Clear. "And use a mild soap," Dr. Schlessinger says.
Chalk it up to another thing you can blame on your mom and dad: Researchers now say that dry skin can be inherited. Experts at the University of Dundee, in Scotland, have found that mutations in genes that control the production of the protein filaggrin, which plays a role in forming and hydrating the skin barrier, can cause several skin conditions. People with these mutations suffer drier skin and have a greater chance of developing eczema.
If you've always had dry skin, or if it runs in your family, it's essential that you're diligent with daily moisturization. "Look for ceramides and lipids in moisturizers, which help build and reinforce the skin barrier," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
When tap water contains a high concentration of minerals like magnesium, lead, and zinc, it's known as hard water — and the minerals can leave a film on skin that causes dryness. "Heavy metals turn the oils on skin into a thick substance that plugs glands, aggravates conditions like acne and rosacea, and prevents moisturizers from being absorbed into the skin," says Dennis Gross, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Investing in a home filtration system will lighten the mineral content of water, and Gross recommends adding chelators, like vitamins A and C, to skin care because they counteract the coating deposited by hard water.
Acne Medications and Retinol
The chemical exfoliants that treat acne — retinol, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide — can also dry out your skin. The good news is that you don't have to give up your skin care savers, though cutting down on their use may deliver results without irritation. "Reduce the frequency of use from every day to every other day or so, make sure you choose a gentle cleanser that isn't compounding the issue, and ask your dermatologist for a less drying prescription if necessary," advises Dr. Taub. You can also try layering treatment products over your moisturizer, instead of underneath it, to buffer their drying side effects.
Sometimes the air inside can be as punishing on your skin as the air outside. Forced air, especially heat, can draw humidity levels down into the single digits — making skin feel dry and itchy. A humidifier can help restore moisture to the air in your house. "Additionally, it's a good idea to keep a mild — 1 percent — hydrocortisone cream on hand. Use it early if you see signs of chapped or dry skin," says Schlessinger. Hydrocortisone is an anti-inflammatory that helps heal and soothe dry, chapped skin and speed its healing.
Zealous Hand Washing
"Some people with dry skin just wash their hands constantly!" says Taub. To mitigate the drying effects of your sanitary habit, use lukewarm water and a cream-based hand cleanser if possible. Immediately follow with your favorite hand lotion while hands are still damp and primed for absorption.