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Dermatologist Explains Common Causes of Dry Skin

Here’s What’s Has Happened to Your Skin When It Gets Dry and Flaky


I know my skin is dry when it feels tight and when flaky, rough patches start popping up on my chin and cheeks. A re-up of moisturizer quickly follows this realization.

While I consider myself pretty skilled at identifying my dry skin symptoms, I sometimes have a harder time figuring out exactly what's causing my dryness.

I know I'm not alone, so to learn more about dry skin in general and get clarification on frequently discussed causes behind the issue, I reached out to Tracy Evans, MD, MPH, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology.

"Dry skin is due to transepidermal water loss in the skin," Dr. Evans told me. In other words, the water is escaping the skin.

As Dr. Evans explained, this water loss can occur because of a disruption in the acid mantle of the skin or in the outermost layer of the skin — and many different genetic and environmental factors can contribute toward these disruptions that then lead to dryness.

Here are a few I asked her about:

The Aging Process

Yes, the aging process can contribute toward the development of dryness. As we age, Dr. Evans said we have decreases in hormones that keep our skin elastic, as well as fewer natural oils. Sun damage over time can contribute toward the issue as well.

Hot Showers

Ugh, I did not want this one to be true, but alas — Dr. Evans confirmed that long, scalding hot showers aren't great for your skin.

"Hot water causes more oil and moisture to be removed from the skin," Dr. Evans said. "The longer the bath or shower and the hotter, the more this process is exacerbated."

Over-Exfoliating

According to Dr. Evans, over-exfoliating with ingredients like salicylic acids, alpha hydroxy acids, and beta hydroxy acids, can remove the outer layer of the skin's moisture barrier. "When the acid mantle is disrupted, transepidermal water loss occurs and your skin becomes dry, dull, and inflamed," she further explained.

Dry Air

Yes, you can actually blame your heater and even cold, winter weather for the dry patches on your skin. "Dry air also causes an increase in transepidermal water loss through our natural skin moisture barrier," told me.

Remember, because there are many different causes behind dryness (these are just a few I asked Dr. Evans about!), it's not a bad idea to reach out to your dermatologist for help identifying what's behind your dry skin symptoms.

The good news: there are things we can do to help prevent the issue as we head into winter — Dr. Evans specifically recommends using gentle cleaners, ceramide-based creams, and hyaluronic acid-based serums to re-hydrate the skin.

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