8 causes of dry skin

Even if heavy moisturising isn't helping your dry skin, it could mean an allergy or an underlying health condition.

Dry skin is something we don t give as much importance to as, say, hair loss or acne.We rarely seek treatment for dry skin. And rightly so, because application of moisturisers or gels or oils can smoothen and moisturise the skin and return it to its original glory. It s that easy! As most causes of dry skin are external, most cures for dry skin too are external.

Generally, dry skin is not a sign of disease, it is simply caused by

  • Dry air
  • Cold harsh weather
  • Hot showers
  • Harsh soaps
  • Incorrect use of moisturiser (you should apply moisturiser on clean, damp skin)
  • Itchy clothing

However, aging, hormonal changes, genes, certain drugs, and many medical conditions too can cause dry skin. Let s check them out.

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Ageing: Dry skin and itching almost always go together in the elderly, especially those above the age of 65 years. This is because as our skin ages, it undergoes various physiological changes reducing its ability to produce and retain moisture. Skin from younger individuals has an ample supply of active sebaceous and sweat glands which promote and maintain moisture in their local environment, whereas these glands are less active in aged skin. These 5 home remedies for ageing skin really work!

Further, the most superficial layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum, is saturated with lipids, proteins and amino acids that have the ability to retain moisture and maintain the skin s barrier function. These structural components are reduced in the elderly, impairing its water retention and thereby leading to dry skin. You should try these 5 home remedies by Shahnaz Husain to go from dry skin to a gorgeous glow.

Another factor that is responsible for dry skin and itching in the elderly is a membrane channel called aquaphorin-3 (AQP3), which allows passage of glycerol and water, and is critical in maintaining skin hydration. Recently, a study found that AQP3 gene expression is significantly reduced in people older than 60 years of age, suggesting that AQP3 reduction may also be contributing to the relative challenges of maintaining proper hydration in elderly skin. [1]These changes make the elderly more susceptible to entry of irritants and allergens through the skin, leading to inflammation and itching.

Menopause: Hormonal changes, especially in menopausal women, can be a major cause of dry itchy skin. For example, a case study of a 62-year old woman who presented with chronic itching in the genital area, was found to have a condition called lichen sclerosus that creates patchy white skin. The chief symptom is itching that may worsen at night. Sometimes, cracking or bleeding of the genital skin or the peri-anal area can also occur. [2] You probably didn't know these 10 lesser known causes of dry skin.

Medications: Some drugs too can be the cause why you have dry skin. For example, blood pressure medication such as diuretics, cholesterol lowering drugs, and even medicines for acne can dry out your skin.

Genetic conditions:

  1. Ichthyosis: Ichthyosis is a family of genetic disorder characterised by persistently dry, scaly skin that is either very thick or very thin. This condition presents with birth or within the first year, and continues to affect the person throughout his /her lifetime.
  1. Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can be a genetic condition or an immune disorder. It is characterised by severe itching. The itch can be so intense that you can t sleep at night and you ll scratch until you bleed.

A study found that the itch can be triggered by an internal or external stimuli, which activates specific nerve endings in the epidermis and dermis (upper and the inner layer of skin). The signal reaches the brain and the scratching reflex is initialised in the cortex region of the brain. Thus, the central nervous system modulates the perception of itch and triggers the desire to scratch.[3]

Medical conditions:

  1. Allergies:

Researchers believe that atopic eczema (dry and itchy skin and rashes) and allergy can co-exist. This is because the increased skin permeability may increase the risk of sensitisation to food and other allergens. [5]

Food allergy is not the only factor that can cause dry and itchy skin, you can also be allergic to the moisturiser you use to soften your skin. So if you feel like scratching or see a rashes coming up on your skin, stop using the moisturiser. You may also be allergic to rubber and acrylates, then too you ll have skin complaints such as dry scaly skin. Have you tried exfoliating dry skin with this homemade sea salt face scrub.

  1. Hypothyroidism

Our skin is a complex organ involved in

  • Maintaining homeostasis or maintaining the core internal temperature of the body
  • Exchange of gases
  • Protection against pathogens
  • Barrier function to maintain proper hydration

The thyroid hormone is an important regulator of the epidermal (top layer of the skin) homeostasis. In hypothyroidism, the metabolic rate in the body slows down because the thyroid glands produce less of the hormone. This causes the skin to become dry, rough and covered with fine scales. The dryness can be so extreme, that there is no sweating, and the palms and soles become thickened.

  1. Diabetes

People with high glucose levels tend to have dry skin and consequently less ability to fight off bacterial infection. The association is stronger with a longer duration of diabetes. Diabetes can cause changes in the small blood vessels. This causes light brown, scaly, round or oval patches on the skin. Poor circulation can cause itchiness, especially on the lower parts of the legs as the circulation is poorest there. The patches however don t hurt or itch.

  1. Malnutrition

When your diet is deficient in vital nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals, your skin can become dry and flaky. Vitamin E deficiency is particularly harmful, since vitamin E works to retain moisture in the skin and safeguards the skin from pollutants and external factors. Deficiency of vitamin E can thus cause excessive dry skin.

Another vitamin for healthy skin is vitamin B3. People with vitamin B3 deficiency develop a dry and thick skin that bruises easily.

Vitamin A also contributes to proper cell growth and repair, especially of skin cells. So, deficiency of vitamin A can lead to dry skin, dry hair, and dry eyes.

While dry skin can be a sign of these medical conditions, most of the time it is just simple dry skin that resolves with a bit of care. But if you have tried various things and none of them worked, it s time to see a doctor.

After all, The greatest gift that you can give yourself is a little bit of your own attention. - Anthony J. D'Angelo

Image source: Shutterstock


1. Garibyan L, Chiou AS, Elmariah SB. Advanced Aging Skin and Itch: Addressing an Unmet Need. Dermatologic therapy. 2013;26(2):92-103. doi:10.1111/dth.12029.

2. Caro-Bruce E, Flaxman G. Vulvar pruritus in a postmenopausal woman.CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2014;186(9):688-689. doi:10.1503/cmaj.130665.

3. Hong J, Buddenkotte J, Berger TG, Steinhoff M. Management of Itch in Atopic Dermatitis. Seminars in cutaneous medicine and surgery. 2011;30(2):71-86. doi:10.1016/j.sder.2011.05.002.

4. Worth A., Sheikh A. Food allergy and atopic eczema. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology. (2010);10:226 230. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e3283387fae.

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