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Understanding dry skin

Njoroge Muchiri

The skin is exposed to many external and internal factors, which are sometimes responsible for skin disorders, including dry skin. In most cases, dry skin is caused by weather changes. The skin is driest during the dry season due to low temperature and humidity levels.

How to tell you have dry skin

Dry skin feels scaly, chapped and cracked. Sometimes, it may also have a sore, raw and squeezed feeling. Dry skin is tightly drawn over the bones, giving it a dull look, especially around the eyes, cheeks and corners of the mouth.

It has low levels of sebum and can be prone to sensitivity. The skin has a dried up look caused by its inability to retain moisture. It usually feels taut and uncomfortable after washing, unless some type of moisturiser or skin cream is applied.

Dryness is made worse by wind, extremes of temperature and air-conditioning, all of which cause the skin to flake, chap and feel tight.

What causes dry skin?

Sebum, an oily substance released by the sebaceous glands, is responsible for keeping the skin moist, supple and waterproof. It forms a barrier on the skin’s surface, which helps in retaining water and keeping irritants out of the body. When these natural oils are not effectively produced, the barrier cannot adequately perform its functions, and the skin becomes dry. Poor diet may also contribute to skin dryness. Eating foods rich in vitamin A and B is important, as they contain nutrients that prevent the skin from drying.

Unprotected exposure to sun, wind, dry cold, chemicals, cosmetics, or excessive bathing with harsh soaps leads to dry skin, because such harsh elements disrupt the outer layer of the skin and destroy the intercellular medium. Conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, or seborrhea could also lead to dry skin, as can use of drugs such as diuretics, antispasmodics and antihistamines.

Other catalysts of dry skin include smoking and central heating or poor ventilation in offices, homes or cars. Loss of estrogen during menopause also reduces the lipid content of skin, which eliminates its natural protection against dryness. However, dry skin could sometimes be due to genetic conditions.

Caring for dry skin

Avoid using tap water when cleansing dry skin. The deposits worsen the situation as they are drying on the skin. Do not wash dry skin using soap and water because it not only removes dirt, but also the natural oil protecting the skin. Instead, use a cleansing oil or cream and remove with a toner.

Dry skin needs plenty of thorough but gentle cleansing, regular stimulation with massage and generous quantities of oil and moisture. You can use baby oil at night. Use a facial mask once a week to clear up the skin and remove dull, dry surface skin cells.

Stay out of overheated rooms and increase your water intake if your skin is chapped or cracked. Also, avoid smoking, as it has a harmful effect on the skin. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels that serve the skin, depriving it of the oxygen and nutrients needed for good health.

Eat a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts. Eat quality protein from vegetable sources. Garlic, onions, eggs, and asparagus are high in sulphur, which helps to keep the skin smooth and youthful.

In severe cases of dryness, a dermatologist should be consulted.

THE AUTHOR IS A STYLIST AT IQBAL CENTRE, TAVETA ROAD

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