With colder weather, it’s time to break out the fuzzy sweaters and the extra-strength moisturizer. That’s right—it is officially dry skin season.
Dry skin is a common skin condition that people experience year-round but is particularly prevalent during cold weather.
Dry skin is mostly harmless, but it can be painful, irritating, and sometimes a sign of a more serious health condition.
If you’ve ever wondered, “what does dry skin look like?” especially compared to other, more serious conditions, here is what you need to know.
Table of Contents:
- What Is Dry Skin?
- What Does Dry Skin Look Like?
- When Should I Go to the Doctor?
- What Causes Dry Skin?
- The Weather
- Your Shower Products
- Treating Dry Skin
What Is Dry Skin?
Dry skin is a condition where the outer layer of your skin does not have enough moisture to maintain its supple elasticity.
Dry skin is a common condition affecting people of all ages and abilities. However, it is more prevalent in older adults, whose bodies naturally produce less moisture, and people whose jobs require them to wash their hands frequently.
Dry skin can appear on all parts of the body, but it is most common on areas that are exposed to the elements, such as the face and ankles, or are washed frequently, such as the hands.
What Does Dry Skin Look Like?
Dry skin looks a little different depending on the person and the severity of the problem. However, there are a few signs that most cases of dry skin share.
Your skin color may change as it dries out. Dry patches can look red and irritated or grey and ashy. You will also notice a change in the texture. Cracks and wrinkles will be more pronounced.
Some particularly deep cracks may even start bleeding, particularly on areas of the body that are frequently irritated, such as the knuckles.
In severe cases, the skin could even start peeling and flaking.
Besides a change in appearance, you will also notice a change in texture. Your skin may feel rougher to the touch and itchy.
Sometimes, you will feel tight and irritated in places that are prone to dry skin, particularly after you’ve exposed those parts of your body to water.
When Should I Go to the Doctor?
The vast majority of cases of dry skin are completely harmless and cause no health complications besides irritation and mild pain.
However, sometimes you should go see a dermatologist. If the problem persists even after you moisturize and adjust your lifestyle, or you are experiencing severe itchiness, flaking, and even bleeding that interferes with your quality of life, go see a doctor.
Your doctor may diagnose you with a skin condition such as psoriasis or eczema, which can cause prolonged periods of severely dry skin.
These conditions are not hazardous to your overall health but can still affect your quality of life if you do not treat them properly.
In certain cases, persistently dry skin could be a sign of an underlying health condition. Extreme dry skin is one of the signs of diabetes because high glucose levels in the blood prevent your skin from getting the hydration that it needs.
Sometimes, dry skin patches could even be a sign of skin cancer. If you have raised, discolored patches of dry skin on areas that are exposed to the sun frequently, that could be an actinic keratosis.
Actinic keratosis is a form of skin precancer that is usually harmless but should still be examined by a dermatologist.
What Causes Dry Skin?
Many environmental factors could be causing you to have dry skin. Here are a few common causes, as well as how to address them.
The weather is often the biggest culprit behind dry skin. Cold and windy weather causes the moisture in your skin to evaporate faster.
Rapid temperature changes, such as the ones we experience going from a cozy, heated home to the blustery outdoors, also cause the skin to lose moisture more quickly.
Short of relocating to warmer climates for the winter months, there’s not much that you can do to stop the weather from wreaking havoc on your skin.
However, you can control your interior climate by buying a humidifier for your home or office.
Your Shower Products
If you are using the wrong soap or body wash, that could be irritating your dry skin even more. Soap and body wash are supposed to strip the skin of oils (that’s how we get clean, after all), but some products go too far and strip the skin of its natural oils as well.
Artificial fragrances can also be irritating to your skin. Products that contain fragrances can even cause contact dermatitis, a form of an allergic reaction.
To retain moisture in your skin, choose a gentle body wash based on natural ingredients. Look for hydrating ingredients such as coconut and make sure that it is fragrance-free or only uses natural fragrances.
To make your shower even more skin-friendly, adjust the temperature of the water. Hot water damages the epidermis and makes your skin lose moisture.
Keep the temperature of the water lukewarm and limit your shower time to a few minutes.
Treating Dry Skin
Addressing the above factors can help you on your way toward combating dry skin. However, shorter showers and a better body wash will not save your skin completely.
This also does nothing to address causes of dry skin that are beyond your control, such as genetics and aging.
The most important thing that you can do for your skin, particularly in winter, is to moisturize regularly. Use a body moisturizer with special formulas targeting dry skin to enhance the hydration that you get.
Dermatologists recommend applying moisturizer right after you get out of the shower, as that is when your skin needs the most hydration.
Dry skin, most recognizable by its redness and itchiness, is common, but it doesn’t have to define your winter.
By moisturizing properly, you can keep your skin smooth and hydrated all year long.