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What Causes Dry Skin and How to Manage It

An image of a woman looking at her face with dry skin on itDry skin is a widespread condition that can affect anyone at any age. Your skin may feel rough, itchy, flaky, or scaly. Numerous factors can contribute to it, such as cold or dry weather, sun exposure, harsh soaps, and overbathing. Also known as xerosis or xeroderma, there are several ways to manage this condition, but to determine the most effective method, you need to know the root cause.

The Different Types of Dry Skin

Even though it is typically just temporary, some varieties could be year-round. If you have frequently dry skin, you may have one of these types:

  • Athlete’s Foot - The soles of your feet may become dry and flaky due to this fungus-caused ailment.
  • Contact Dermatitis - Your skin may become dry, irritated, and red due to contact with irritants like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, soaps, or Nickel in jewelry.
  • Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) - You might have eczema if you have dry, red, and irritated skin areas. Your skin may begin to crack as a result. This skin problem can be genetic, but it is also aggravated by factors including allergies, stress, and other irritants.
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis - Dandruff might develop if your scalp is overly dry. (When babies develop it, it is known as cradle cap.) Your face, ears, groin, arms, legs, and area around your belly button may also have dry, flaky skin.

What Causes Dry Skin?

Anyone can develop dry skin. However, several risk factors, such as the following, increase your risk of acquiring dry skin:

  • Your age. Dry skin is more common in older people. Your risk of developing dry skin increases because your pores naturally generate less oil.
  • Medical background. If you have a family history of eczema or other allergic illnesses, you may be more prone to developing allergic contact dermatitis or eczema.
  • The season. In the fall and winter, dry skin is more prevalent when humidity is generally low. Higher humidity throughout the summer prevents your skin from drying out.
  • Your job. If it requires you to regularly submerge your hands in water, like nursing, hairstyling, or working with earth, clay, or cement, it could dry out your skin.
  • Bathing customs. Your risk of developing dry skin increases by taking frequent baths or washing with very hot water.

When to Be Concerned About Dry Skin

Most dry skin problems benefit significantly from dietary adjustments and home care. However, in some cases, you may need to see a doctor.

If any of the following apply, you may require assistance from your primary care physician or a dermatologist:

  • Your signs and symptoms are still there despite your attempts at self-care.
  • Your skin gets swollen or uncomfortable.
  • Your skin becomes thick and dry as a result of cancer therapy.
  • Because of how uncomfortable your condition is, you're having trouble sleeping or staying focused on your everyday activities.
  • Due to scratching, you have open wounds or infections.
  • You have extensive scaly or peeling skin patches.

Stress As A Cause of Dry Skin

Your body reacts chemically to stress in a way that increases skin sensitivity and reactivity. Additionally, it may hinder recovery from skin conditions.

An image of a woman looking at her acne in a mirrorStress can worsen breakouts. This is because stress causes your body to create chemicals like cortisol, which instructs skin glands to produce more oil. Acne and other skin issues are more likely to occur on oily skin.

Chronic stress can lead to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), which occurs when the adrenals are no longer able to keep up with the demand for cortisol. In the later stages of AFS, low cortisol levels can be connected to dry skin.

You might have Adrenal Fatigue if your skin is dry, and the explanation is not anything else, such as thyroid problems, psoriasis, dry weather, ect. It is possible to link Adrenal Fatigue with dry skin for a few different reasons.

First, the adrenal glands create aldosterone, a hormone in charge of maintaining water balance in your body. Aldosterone levels will fall if your adrenals are underactive, and you will eventually become more dehydrated, which might result in drier skin.

As the adrenals weaken, a drop in thyroid activity is another potential. Although the thyroid and adrenals are different organs, they can work together to control metabolism. The thyroid may become weakened if the adrenals do, as both are connected through the Hormone circuit. This could result in dry skin.

NEM Dysfunctions and Dry Skin

Stress also often means that you don't have enough time for rest or sleep because of a fast-paced lifestyle. Additionally, the poor nutrition brought on by a hectic and stressful lifestyle can also do damage to the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system.

The body's global response to stress is known as the NEM stress response. The NEM is composed of six circuits of related organ systems, all of which work together to cope with stress. One key component of this system is the adrenals. As noted above, the adrenals are part of the Hormone circuit, which can eventually deteriorate due to the constant demand to produce cortisol to cope with stress. This causes other hormones to dysregulate, leading to hormone imbalances that can also lead to dry skin.

Clinical investigations in healthy individuals have shown that psychological stress can impair the epidermal barrier, the top layer of the skin that seals in moisture and shields us from hazardous bacteria. This can also delay its recovery. Healthy skin requires an intact epidermal barrier; when damaged, it can cause sores, eczema, psoriasis, and other chronic skin conditions.

How to Ease The Effects of Stress On Your Skin

Stress is probably impossible to eliminate, but there are things you can do to manage it better. Here are some ideas:

  • Do not disregard your skin. Take care of it even if you're worn out or under pressure.
  • Exercise frequently. Both your skin and your body will benefit from it.
  • Even if you only have ten minutes, set aside some time for yourself to accomplish something you enjoy. Read a book or take a bath.
  • Walk the length of the block.
  • Use stress-reduction methods like yoga, meditation, visual imagery, or breathing exercises.
  • Get adequate rest. It's best to get seven to eight hours per night.
  • Say no. Setting restrictions and limitations can help you feel less stressed.
  • Speak with someone. Consult a friend or a trained therapist for support.

Modalities That Can Help Dry Skin

An image of a basket full of soaps and lotionsCommon skin irritants include liquid soap, deodorizers, and cleaning supplies. These creams dehydrate and irritate the skin, removing the moisture in your skin. Avoiding them can help prevent it. Some people may get eczema or dermatitis due to dry skin.

Wear Gloves

You must safeguard your hands from abrasive home cleaners and detergents known to irritate the skin. When it's time to scrub, put on non-latex rubber gloves. Or even better, put up two barriers of defense - before touching a bucket or sponge, put on a pair of rubber gloves over a covering of thin, soft cotton gloves.


When searching for a moisturizer for your dry skin, you want to look out for the following ingredients:

  • Dimethicone - helps keep your skin hydrated.
  • Proteins, Glycerin, and Propylene Glycol - all help attract water to your skin.
  • Mineral Oils - These oils help lock the moisture into your skin.

You want to moisturize your skin at least twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. If you shower in the morning, ensure your skin is dry before you apply your moisturizing product. If the product contains oils, they will not get absorbed into the skin correctly.

If you have dry feet, apply your moisturizer and then place socks on your feet for 30 minutes. This will help the product absorb into your skin quicker.

Wear Cotton-Based Clothing

You may want to try to avoid materials that can irritate your skin and cause your skin to itch, such as wool and spandex. Cotton-based clothing is gentle on the skin, and it absorbs sweat.

When you are at the beach or out in the sun, wearing long-sleeved clothes with UV protection will help protect your dry skin from the rays of the sun and prevent your skin from burning.


Lowering stress levels should aid in reducing some skin problems, although there is little research available on the efficacy of therapies to reduce stress. Some evidence suggests that regular meditation practitioners may generally experience reduced catecholamine levels and no significant spikes in epinephrine levels.

This shows meditation may effectively reduce stress response. Your stress response is linked to anxiety and depression, chronic stress, and more. Likewise, there is evidence that relaxation exercises and meditation benefit psoriasis.

Rinse and Moisturize After Swimming

If you've been swimming in a strongly chlorinated pool, it’s important to rinse your body in clean water to remove the chlorine and then apply a moisturizer once your skin is dry.

Drink When You're Thirsty

To help maintain all of your body's healthy tissues, particularly your skin, stay well-hydrated, and consume enough non-caffeinated beverages every day. Caffeinated drinks can actually worsen dehydration.

Bathe Babies With Care

Babies often only need to be bathed once every two to four weeks. If not, simply wash them in water. Clean their diaper area thoroughly after each diaper change, though. Applying a thin coating of diaper cream can also help to lock in moisture.

Foods That Can Help Protect and Moisturize Dry Skin

An image of moisturizing foodsFood is a crucial component of healthy skin. A nutritious, balanced diet may help a person's skin perform its protective duties more effectively. This gives your body the nutrients it needs to deal with stressors effectively, lowers inflammation, and keeps hormones balanced. Some foods may even assist in moisturizing and protecting the skin.

The following vitamin deficits can manifest as dry skin:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

Including these vitamins and minerals in the diet can help maintain good skin. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help prevent dry skin.

Side Effects of Dry Skin

Dry skin is typically not harmful. However, if it is neglected, can result in:

  • Eczema. Excessive dryness can trigger the disease in people predisposed to it, resulting in a rash and cracked skin.
  • Infections. Cracks in the skin could let bacteria in and lead to infection.

These issues are most likely to happen when your skin's defenses are seriously weakened. For instance, dehydrated skin might result in deep fissures or fractures that can open and bleed, creating a pathway for invasive microorganisms. This is why it’s important to address dry skin by applying appropriate moisturizers and avoiding aggravating factors as soon as you notice it.


Everyone experiences dry skin occasionally. Drinking more water and using moisturizers are easy strategies to address the skin issue. There are factors we cannot control, such as age and environment, but there are several modalities to help you manage it. Do note that it is important to address so that it does not lead to painful cracked skin or infections.

The Dr. Lam Coaching team is eager to be of assistance if you need help understanding how to improve your skin care regimen and overall health. Call us at +1 (626) 571-1234 for a no-obligation, free phone consultation, where we will discreetly discuss your symptoms and your alternatives. By clicking here, you can also ask a question via our Ask The Doctor page.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Skin dryness can be caused by a variety of factors, for instance, dry and cold weather, too much exposure to the sun, harsh detergents, and overbathing. These factors, combined with age and medical conditions, can lead to a loss of moisture in the skin.

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