For many people, dry skin is a fact of life in winter, and for others, the condition can cause flakiness and itching all year. Yet, while dry skin is incredibly common, that doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented or treated. Effectively dealing with dry skin begins with understanding the underlying cause, explains Blount Memorial board-certified dermatologist Dr. Trent Gay.
“To clearly explain why the skin becomes dry, it is easiest to think of the skin like a continuous, flexible sheet of bricks and mortar,” says Gay, adding that the bricks are the skin cells while the mortar is a collection of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, or lipids. “One of the most influential factors in keeping moisture in the skin is a group of lipids called ceramides. They function as a water-tight ‘mortar’ between the skin cells, preventing moisture from leaving the skin and evaporating into the air.”
Gay explains that during cold weather months, indoor heating systems cause the humidity in the air to drop. As a result, the ceramides in the skin become depleted and the moisture in the skin evaporates from the surface more easily, leading to dry skin. According to Gay, when the mortar of the skin dries up, it cracks and leaves small openings through which opportunistic bacteria, fungi and viruses can enter the body.
“The skin is the first and most important line of defense from everything that is outside of our bodies,” he adds. “Studies have shown that people with dry skin are more prone to infections such as cellulitis, ringworm, and warts among several other things.”
Using a humidifier at home to replace the lost humidity in the air can help. The best room for a humidifier is the bedroom (with the door shut), says Gay, since that is where people typically spend the most consecutive amount time. Before even trying a humidifier, though, Gay recommends the most obvious course of action: moisturizing.
He adds, “What is not as obvious are the best types of moisturizers and the best time for application. As far as types of moisturizers go, ointments are better than creams and creams are better than lotions. Since there’s a mess associated with ointments and they are often not practical, I normally recommend creams, such as CeraVe, due to the ceramides it contains.”
To get the most out of moisturizing, Gay says to apply the ointment or cream within three minutes of exiting the shower and after patting (not scrubbing) the skin dry with a towel. He also suggests using a mild soap or body wash since many body cleansing products can make dry skin much worse.
If self-care measures don’t provide relief, see a dermatologist to determine the best treatment.
To make an appointment with Dr. Gay, call Blount Memorial Physicians Group — Dermatology at 865-238-6450.