It may be called the dry season, but balmy summer weather demands glowingly healthy skin. Summer dresses and miniskirts not only fend off the heat—they also induce it, when they reveal skin that’s smooth and well-moisturized. Aesthetics aside, nothing can break the sultry summer mood than flaking, itchy—or worse, painful—dry skin. How do we keep our first and largest barrier against disease intact?
The lowdown on dryness
Dry skin is a very common problem, particularly as you get older. The outer layers of your skin are made up of skin cells, oil and water. This outermost skin barrier can break down due to wear and tear from the environment, e.g. from the wind, sun, frequent washing or exposure to irritant substances.
When this happens, oil and water are lost from your skin, causing skin dryness and sometimes itching. Your skin may become rough or scaly and small flakes of dead skin may be visible.
Taking long baths or showers in hot water, using too much soap or spending a lot of time in dry air, such as in air-conditioned rooms, can make your skin dry.
Know your options
Soap substitutes, moisturizers, barrier creams, anti-itch preparations and bath and shower substitutes can all help to alleviate problems associated with having dry skin. Ask your pharmacist or dermatologist about the most suitable treatments for your skin.
• Soap substitutes
Normal soap is very alkaline and can damage the skin. If you have dry skin, you should always use a soap substitute. Similarly, soaps with perfumes and/or lanolin may trigger allergies.
• Moisturizers or emollients
Moisturizers leave a fine film over the skin that retains moisture. Ointments tend to be more effective than creams, but are a little more greasy. Humectants such as glycerin, propylene glycol and phospholipids may be useful as hydrating agents. Allantoin, on the other hand, is a keratolytic agent that loosens cells on the top layer of skin, exposing the new, soft skin underneath. Urea is a humectant that holds moisture in the skin and has mild keratolytic action.
• Barrier creams
Barrier creams are useful for people who frequently have their hands in water or who have contact dermatitis. However, they can make your hands slippery.
• Anti-pruritic (anti-itch) preparations
Oatmeal and pine tar products are useful in the bath to help relieve itchy, dry skin.
• Bath and shower products
Regular use of bath oil may stop the skin producing its own oil, which can cause rebound dry skin. For this reason you should not use more than the recommended amount.
The following supplements may also help with dry skin: