When it comes to skin concerns, Google seems to be our best friend, but frantic searches about why your skin is suddenly very itchy and flaky may leave you feeling panicked (speaking from experience). We don't know about you, but we’d really like to avoid any misinformation about our skin's current — very dry — condition. So, we set out to answer the big questions, from the most basic (first of all, why?) to the most common (how do I fix this?).
To help us, we sought advice from two skin-care experts — Dylan Griffiths, professional expertise manager for Eucerin, and Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist at HCA The Shard — who told us everything we needed to know about treating dry skin. Ahead, find their professional suggestions on how to manage dry skin this winter and beyond.
What can trigger dry skin in the winter?
Winter's harsh elements don't make it easy for skin to stay soft and moisturised. Dr. Laftah explained that the mix of cold air, low humidity, and indoor heating increases transepidermal water loss, which results in skin barrier dysfunction and the eventual development of dry skin. "In cold conditions, skin reacts by narrowing the blood vessels to protect the body from losing too much heat," Griffiths added. "Sustained cold temperatures reduce sebaceous gland secretion and cause skin to dry out, leaving skin feeling tight, itchy, and flaky."
Dry skin is also something that naturally happens as we age. The epidermis, skin's top layer, thins as you get older, losing those healthy fats and oils it needs to retain moisture and protect against irritation.
What's the difference between dry and dehydrated skin?
Although the words are often used interchangeably, dry skin does not equal dehydrated skin. While the two can coexist, said Dr Laftah, their definitions differ. "Dehydrated skin results from a lack of water," she explained. "Dry skin develops when the skin's oil and lipid content is reduced." Dehydration is a condition caused by external factors, like the weather, and can affect any skin type (yes, you can have oily skin and experience dehydration at the same time). Dry skin, however, is a skin type, not just a condition. If you're suffering from both dryness and dehydration, you'll need a combination of moisture-replenishing products and barrier-building lipids to address these two concerns.
What are the biggest symptoms of dry skin?
According to Dr. Laftah, dry skin often presents as rough, flaky, and may also feel tight and itchy. If left untreated, you could potentially see some redness or cracking. For the most part, dry skin is normal; almost half of the population has it. But chronic dryness can also be a sign of something more serious, like psoriasis or eczema. Although your dry skin could very well be just dry skin, if you notice that the symptoms don't improve with consistent use of moisturisers, or you begin to develop thick, raised red patches, it may be time to see a GP.
What are some of the most common places people experience dry skin?
"The face and hands, which are directly exposed to the harsh cold winter weather, are most at risk," said Dr. Laftah. "Those who have an eczema tendency may develop a flare in the skin creases, for example, on the neck, the inner parts of the arm, and behind the knees."
It's also common to experience dehydrated skin on the face, something that can be aggravated by excessive face washing (especially in hot water), an imbalance in pH, or using too many harsh chemicals at once. Ingredients like retinol, AHAs, and BHAs, can strip the skin if used too often or when mixed together.
What are habits people should avoid that can worsen dry-skin symptoms?
Hot baths may be your favourite form of self-care, but it's best to avoid them in the winter. Yes, hot water feels soothing, but Dr. Laftah recommended soaking in lukewarm water instead. Why? Hot baths or showers can deplete the skin's natural oil content, leaving it dry and itchy.
Winter is also the perfect time to take another look at your routine and double-check the ingredients that could be leaving skin bankrupt of moisture. "We often forget to adapt our skin-care regime during the winter when our skin barrier is less resilient," Dr. Laftah said. "Consider reducing or stopping the use of AHAs and BHAs, as they may be too harsh on the skin, and switching to a gentle cleanser."
Going for a gentle cleanser applies to handwashing, too. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we've been washing our hands more than ever, which means skin is looking very dry and dehydrated. According to Griffiths, you should swap in a soap formula that prioritises washing the hands as much as it does restoring the skin with moisture. Be sure to follow up with a hand lotion, too. A formula like the Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 5% Urea Hand Cream can offer immediate and long-term relief.
What ingredients should someone use in their skin-care routine to prevent dry or dehydrated skin?
Despite how similar their symptoms are, not every ingredient will work as effectively for dryness as it does for dehydration. For example, plant oils (argan, jojoba, hemp seed, etc.) or butters would work really well for chronic dryness, but not so much for dehydration. Luckily, there's a long list of ingredients that actually work double time for dry and dehydrated skin.
- Urea: As a natural moisturising factor (NMF), urea plays a crucial role in helping your skin retain moisture. Since it's both a humectant and keratolytic, urea can help skin remain moisturised and hydrated, while also helping it appear smooth and supple.
Ceramides: Without enough ceramides, your skin barrier becomes compromised and dysfunctional, resulting in dryness. This powerful ingredient can help strengthen the skin barrier to reduce transepidermal water loss and improve hydration.
Glycerin: Glycerin, or in the case of some products gluco-glycerol, acts as a humectant and is best used with occlusives to protect skin from water loss. A product like the Eucerin Aquaphor Soothing Skin Balm, a semi-occlusive, can help to soothe and protect dry skin.
Hyaluronic acid: Hyaluronic acid can temporarily add water back into the outermost layer of the skin, which helps to create that kind of hydrated and youthful plumpness we lose as we age. Just be sure to use it in tandem with an occlusive moisturiser to lock in that hydration.
What are some ingredients people should avoid that may worsen dry skin symptoms?
Like we mentioned before, it's best to avoid layering acids with retinol. Dr. Laftah explained that these should be used sparingly or avoided altogether — at least for the people with chronically dry or sensitive skin. In general, dry skin can be worsened by alcohol-based products and some fragrances. The best rule of thumb is to read ingredient lists and know exactly what you're combining in one routine. In case you aren't ready to part with your nightly retinol, using a moisturising face cream, like the Eucerin UreaRepair Replenishing Face Cream, can help to counteract its drying effects. Its urea-containing formula will help skin to feel supple and soft — not tight.
What's the biggest long-term prevention for dry skin?
"Moisturisers are fundamental in maintaining the skin's barrier function and preventing dry skin," Dr. Laftah said. "It is important to choose a moisturiser with key hydrating ingredients and apply it liberally and frequently throughout the day." Our suggestion: a lotion with a high concentration of urea, like the Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 10% Urea Lotion. This combines urea, ceramides, other NMFs, and gluco-glycerol to protect, restore, and moisturise skin. You can expect instant results and, with consistent use, long-term benefits, too.
Griffiths also mentioned that, besides a moisturising lotion, the type of body wash you use is crucial. So, when you end up taking those lukewarm showers or baths, opt for a cleanser designed to support dry skin, like the Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 5% Urea Replenishing Body Wash.