You might have suffered from dry skin some time in your life. It is quite common and can occur at any age; more often in winter and in dryer regions. It is usually treated with a good moisturiser which keeps the itchiness and flakiness at bay; however, some people experience chronic dry skin and may need to implement additional measures to treat their dry skin.

Doctors sometimes refer to excessive dry skin as xerosis. It could be a sign of skin inflammation known as dermatitis. The condition causes patches of dry, irritated and itchy skin that gets worse if not treated. In severe cases the skin becomes rough and scaly, and can crack and bleed (allowing in germs and possible infection).

Let’s look at what causes dry skin and how it can be prevented and treated.

The offenders

Dry skin can be caused by a combination of factors. By following a process of elimination you should be able to pinpoint the most relevant causes and take action. Here is a list of the usual suspects:

Age – As we get older, our skin becomes thinner and loses moisture, and it becomes necessary to moisturise more frequently.

Climate and weather conditions – Hot and dry air, as well as icy and cold air can have a huge impact on skin moisture. Protect your skin through protective clothing and by minimising exposure.

Sun exposure – Ultraviolet sunlight accelerates skin ageing and loss of moisture. Use protective clothing and sun protection, and limit your sun exposure.

Genetic or hormonal influences – You may be prone to dry skin due to your genes which determine skin characteristics like pigmentation and lipid (fat) levels. Or due to hormonal changes during adolescence and menopause which can affect the skin’s moisture balance.

Occupation – A job that requires your skin to be exposed to water or chemicals numerous times a day or for extended periods can strip your skin of its protective lipids, leaving your skin barrier weakened. Swimming instructors especially have to take care as high levels of chlorine can dry out the skin excessively.

Inappropriate skin care routine – Long hot baths, strong soaps and frequent washing can remove the natural skin oils that is needed by your skin barrier for protection.

Medication – Some medications act as diuretics and promote the loss of water, leaving the skin dry. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for alternatives if you are prone to dry skin.

Skin disease – Dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis are conditions that cause very dry and irritated skin.

The rescuers

Taking action to treat or prevent dry skin may require a change in lifestyle habits, especially if you suffer from chronic dry skin. Here are some winner tips:

Healthy diet – A diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants, omega fatty acids and plenty of water is by far the best remedy for dry skin in the long term. Lipids help to keep the skin soft, plump, and flexible, so eat plenty foods that contain “good fats” (especially omega-3 fatty acids) and keep hydrated with lots of water throughout the day.

Do not use very hot water – Hot water and soaking tends to strip your skin from its natural oils rapidly. Rather use warm water when bathing or showering and try to limit your bath or shower to between 5 to 10 minutes. Pat your skin dry — don’t rub — with a soft towel. Do not bath more often than once a day.

Use a gentle cleanser – One of the most common causes of dry skin is harsh soaps and detergents that remove your skin’s natural oils, leaving it dry and sensitive. Avoid using antibacterial and perfumed soaps, and opt for SLS-free (sodium lauryl sulphate), natural plant based body and face washes.

Moisturise using products without petrochemicals, perfumes and parabens – Apply a moisturiser as often as needed to soften, hydrate and nourish the skin. Make sure it has a high content of natural oils such as coconut, avocado or olive oil. Also important, avoid moisturisers that contain skin irritating chemicals in your products such as petrochemicals, perfumes and parabens. These synthetic chemicals can make dry skin worse. Petrochemicals, for instance, sit on the surface of the skin, giving a false sense of the skin being hydrated. They don’t penetrate the skin and so skin remains dry. Apply a petrochemical-free, rich body lotion or moisturiser such as Down to Earth’s African Potato Cream, straight after showering to lock in moisture. Use a face moisturiser high in natural oils such as the Revive Moisturiser for soft, smooth and healthy skin.

Humidify your room – If you use heaters indoors in winter which dry out the air and your skin, you should also use a humidifier, especially at night. This will replace the moisture in the air and help hydrate dry skin and soothe chapped lips, dry throat, and nasal passages. Make sure you set your heater to the lowest setting that’s comfortable.