The Definitive Guide to Ending Dry Skin: Part 1

Dry skin is a common challenge, yet very few people know how to identify the cause of their dry skin or how to alleviate the symptoms. This article is the first in a series of three articles about effectively alleviating dry skin. This article shares information about little-known causes of dry skin and how to identify them. The Definitive Guide to Ending Dry Skin: Part 2 shares information on different ingredients that are great for alleviating dry skin. Lady with dry skin 

The medical term for dry skin is “xeroderma,” but knowing the medical term does little to alleviate the symptoms. The bottom line is that dry skin needs to be addressed from the inside out. Most people use topical treatments to alleviate dry skin. Doing so creates very temporary relief. For prolonged relief, one must identify what is causing the dry skin and address that while using topical products to reduce symptoms.

Dry skin is typically the result of a lack of oil or water in the upper layers of the skin. Potential causes of the lack of oil and or water are listed below. 

Most Common Causes of Dry Skin

  • Hormonal imbalances:  Hormonal imbalances are a very common cause of dry skin which are sadly often overlooked. Imbalances in thyroid hormones and/or reproductive hormones can create dry skin which itches so severely it strongly impacts quality of life. To ensure all hormone levels are normal, ask your physician to order a complete thyroid panel and a saliva hormone test. For more information, read How to Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate. You can order your own saliva hormone test here: Saliva Hormone Tests. Most people find their dry skin challenges disappear once their hormone levels are brought back into balance.
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  • Physiological illnesses or conditions:  There are several health conditions that may cause dry, itchy skin. The following are known to cause dry skin: anemia, asthma, diabetes, thyroid imbalances, food and environmental allergies, high blood pressure, hepatitis (all forms), kidney disease, liver disease, ichthyosis vulgaris (“fish scale disease”), and others. If you suspect your dry skin is caused by an unidentified disease or illness, work with your physician to have the correct testing done.
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  • Dehydration:  This seems like a no-brainer, but even mild dehydration can cause the skin to dry out. To ensure you are drinking enough water, make it your goal to drink half your body weight in ounces of purified water every day. This means a woman who weighs 150 pounds should aim to drink 75 ounces of purified water daily. The skin’s texture, health and vibrancy often improve dramatically simply by drinking more water. If skin dehydration is being caused by your heating system, using a humidifier may help.
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  • Lack of healthy dietary fat or a fatty acid imbalance:  The myth that dietary fats are dangerous was especially damaging to skin health. Your body requires healthy forms of fat to maintain healthy skin, balance hormones, maintain healthy blood vessels, and more. Eating a fat-free or low-fat diet almost guarantees dry skin. Incorporating healthy fats such as those found in nuts and seeds, coconut oil, organic meats, dairy and eggs, avocados, etc. is one easy way to moisturize from the inside out. During the winter, I find that eating 1-2 tablespoons of organic coconut oil on a daily basis is a simple way to prevent or alleviate dry skin.
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    Eating large amounts of oils which are high in omega 6 fatty acids may also have a drying effect on the skin, as those oils are known to be very inflammatory. Avoid oils such as soy, peanut canola and corn, as those oils are extremely high in omega 6 fatty acids. Using organic oils such as olive and coconut are much better options. Increase your omega 3 consumption by eating organic chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts, etc.
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  • Failing to protect skin from harsh weather, cleaning products, etc.:  If you are going to be in extreme weather conditions, please take time to protect your face and hands. Moisturizing prior to the exposure and covering your face and hands with a warm scarf or gloves can help. If you are frequently exposed to harsh cleaning products or chemicals, please protect your skin with gloves and other protective gear. If it is not practical to use gloves, coat your hands in a heavy coating of lanolin or cocoa butter prior to doing the work.
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  • Using products containing Sodium Laureth or Lauryl Sulfate:  We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking a product cannot clean without lots of bubbly lather. That is simply not true. In order to create fake lather, many manufacturers add chemical foaming agents (sodium laureth sulfate and/or sodium lauryl sulfate) to their products. Both products are known skin irritants which are also known to cause dry skin. For more information on these products, read Top Five Ingredients to Avoid in Skin Care Products.
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  • Using products containing alcohols or other harsh ingredients:  If you do not recognize an ingredient in a body care product, chances are you’d be better off without it. Believe it or not, many lotions contain various forms of alcohol. The alcohols are added to make the product dry quickly or feel very light on the skin. The problem is that the alcohols in the moisturizers actually dry out the skin. If you don’t make your own body care products, only use moisturizers that do not contain alcohol and which contain truly natural ingredients.
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  • Taking medications that dry the skin: There are a number of prescriptions which have dry skin as a known side effect. Those medications include statin medications for high cholesterol, several medications for high blood pressure, and multiple medications for acne. If you suspect your dry skin is caused or exacerbated by one of your medications, discuss the issue with your physician and ask about alternatives. (Never stop taking any prescribed medication without discussing it with your physician.)
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  • Excess bathing:  You do not need to take a shower or bath every single day. I promise. Frequent bathing, especially in very hot water, will dry the skin very quickly. Bathing in unfiltered water can also cause dry skin due to the drying effects of chlorine. Most people do just fine bathing 2-3 times per week. If you can’t bring yourself to bathe less frequently, bathing in slightly cooler water and using a dechlorinating shower filter or bath ball will help protect you from the drying effects of chlorine. (Click the links to see the products I use.)
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  • Aging:  Sadly, one of the side effects of aging is that the skin produces less sebum, its natural moisturizer. The strategies discussed previously can help maintain more moisture in your skin, as can eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, exercise, etc.

Next up:  The Definitive Guide to Ending Dry Skin: Part 2

 Photo courtesy of Ruby Blossom

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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2 Responses to The Definitive Guide to Ending Dry Skin: Part 1

  1. […] is the second part of a two-part series on how to combat dry skin. Please read The Definitive Guide to Ending Dry Skin: Part 1 for information on the potential causes of dry skin and ways to address them. This article focuses […]

  2. Hazel Walker says:

    Thanks this was exactly what I needed. I am working on the hydration, I also use coconut oil on my skin too. I hate the way aging makes the skin look like crepe paper!

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