Dryness of the skin is a big problem in those who suffer from it. The skin feels flaky and even itchy due to dryness. In extreme cases, it causes cracking of lips, hands and feet, particularly heels. One feels tempted to scratch it but scratching a dry skin carries risk of introducing germs causing infection. Skin is the protective covering of the body. Infections of the skin can infect other body parts as well, including causing sepsis. It can also induce and aggravate eczema in those who are vulnerable to it. It is also very embarrassing to scratch any part of the body particularly when one is with company.
Having a shower with hot water is one of the most common causes of a dry skin. Heat tends to deplete the moisture of the skin, thus causing dryness. Soap, shower gel, among other products used for cleaning the body during bathing, also tend to cause a dry skin as one may have allergy to the chemicals used in these products.
A dry skin can be because of allergy to perfumes or other chemicals used in detergents for washing clothes. Nylon or polyester clothes do not allow the skin to breathe freely and can cause dryness and even allergy in people vulnerable to it. This can manifest as dryness, itching, eruptions, rashes, one or more of these.
Frequent exposure to heat, strong sun, cold weather, dust or other environmental pollutants, tends to rob the moisture of the skin, making it dry. Same effect occurs with use of central heating, room heaters and air conditioners.
Hereditary factor plays an important role in determining the texture of skin. If one or both parents or a blood relative has a dry skin, a person has higher chances of having it. Diet has an important part in keeping the body healthy, including the skin. A diet deficient in vitamin B.complex and vitamin E causes dryness of the skin as one of the manifestations. It can be temporarily due to dehydration.
Among medical conditions, under functioning of the thyroid gland, is one of the underlying causes of a dry skin. Chronic skin ailments like psoriasis, dermatitis and fungal infections, have a dry skin as one of the manifestations.
One can avoid a dry skin by certain simple measures. Avoid taking long and hot showers. A lukewarm water is better than hot water. One should also avoid soaps and shower gels, particularly those with strong chemicals. After a bath, one should apply a moisturizing lotion over the body while the body is still damp. Dampness helps to retain the moisture. Depending on the severity of dryness, the moisturizing lotion should be used 2 or 3 times every day. Healthy natural oils like coconut oil, olive oil are also good moisturizing agents and can be applied over the skin after a bath and even 2-3 times each day.
If moving out in the sun, wearing protective sun glasses and sun cap, applying sun screen over the body, help in preventing dryness. Similarly protective measures should be used, when exposed to cold weather. At home, humidifiers should be used, while using central heating or room heaters. Nylon clothes should ideally be avoided altogether as they are not healthy for the body, including the skin.
One’s daily diet should include lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans eggs, e.t.c. Natural sources of vitamin B. complex. Breads and cereals fortified with vitamin B.complex, milk products like curds and cheese are also useful in this regard. Drinking lots of water is also helpful to prevent dryness, as it keeps the body hydrated.
If after adopting these measures, the skin remains dry, one should seek medical advice. Medical consultation is also advised if the skin is very flaky or becomes very red and itchy with dryness or boils formed due to secondary infection.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine