Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/31/2021
There are so many things out there trying to make your skin dry and dull that it might be hard to give you a full picture.
Dry skin is a common occurrence among adults, and it can be associated with plenty of other health conditions like itchy skin or sensitive skin.
Dry, flaky skin isn't just unpleasant to see in the mirror, though—it can also be the sign of a serious medical condition like atopic dermatitis.
Skin conditions are just one of the potential causes of skin dryness though. Everything from harsh soaps and allergic reactions to environmental elements or using the wrong skin care products can contribute to this problem.
What are we to do to keep our skin healthy, glowing and free of dead skin cells that make us look dull and dingy? To answer that question, it's important to understand what dry skin actually is.
Dry skin, also called xerosis, is a skin condition that can affect pretty much anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or skin type.
In the most general sense, dry skin is caused by the loss of moisture from your skin through a variety of means.
Likewise, it can also be caused by insufficient water intake or hydration, which is important for replenishing your skin’s moisture reserves.
Dry skin can be caused by any number of internal or external factors, often in combination. You may experience symptoms of dry skin due to a dry or arid climate, from spending too much time in the sun or sunbathing.
That might mean living in a desert region or spending a lot of time indoors during the winter, where heaters can reduce humidity.
Likewise, dry skin can be caused by hot baths and hot showers or chlorinated pools.
The seasons can also do some damage—cold weather during the winter months can sap moisture from your skin as the humidity drops, literally pulling moisture from you into the air.
Harsh winds, smoke and other environmental irritants can also contribute to dryness.
Dry skin can also be caused by the removal of oil, which can strip moisture from your skin. That means that if you’re washing your hands a lot, they may experience dryness (and yes, the same goes for your face). Likewise, harsh cleansers can dehydrate your skin.
Chronic conditions like psoriasis and eczema cause dryness in your skin, which you might also experience on your face.
These conditions can also worsen as we age—the older you get, the more sweat glands and oil glands begin to shut down, making it increasingly difficult for your body to regulate your skin’s moisture.
Other skin conditions such as contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis and athlete’s foot can all cause dry skin, as well.
Finally, it’s important to understand that dry skin can be a symptom of other medical conditions.
Things like diabetes and certain kidney diseases can make it difficult for you to achieve the skin health you want, and for your skin to get the moisture it needs.
Protecting your face entirely from the things that want to dry it out may be a tough job, but there are plenty of tips and tricks to take some of those dangers out of your daily habits.
One easy way to cut some hazards is to cut the temperature and use lukewarm water on your baths and showers.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), warm water instead of hot water is enough to clean your skin without doing dehydrating damage.
You should also limit the wash time to 10 minutes. While you’re in there, use mild soaps and gentle cleansers to avoid another moisture thief.
After a bath or shower, you will always want to dry off and then apply moisturizers to any affected areas, which will help replenish what you might have lost.
Things like lip balm and gentle skincare products can protect you from further moisture loss throughout the day—the AAD says to avoid retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids and alcohol in products, as they may contribute to dryness.
Humidifiers are a great way to reduce the environmental dangers of dehydration if you live in an arid place or use drying heat during the winter—just remember that they don’t work outside, and which means you’ll want to protect yourself differently (with lotions, creams or serums) when outdoors.
Finally, you may want to look to products that keep moisture on your face. In addition to cleansers and lotions, products containing hyaluronic acid may benefit you.
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring compound found in your skin, joints and elsewhere, and it helps your body retain moisture.
A 2011 study found that it improved skin elasticity as well, and in 2014 another study showed that it can help you reduce wrinkle depth.
Preventing dry skin is an easy task for some, and a challenging one for others.
Whether your dry, cracked skin is a seasonal effect from changing environmental factors, or the result of irritants or simply due to internal causes like the effects of aging and poor hydration, there are preventative steps you can take.
But if you’re dealing with existing problems that won’t go away, or if you’re unsure of what’s causing your dry skin, get some help and consult a certified dermatology practitioner or healthcare provider.
Dry skin isn’t anything to be embarrassed about, but it’s certainly something that you should get help with if it’s persistent, because it could be a signal of bigger issues.
Looking healthy is one thing, but feeling healthy is where we all want to be. Make both your goal today.