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What Causes Dry Skin?

Dr. Nancy Shannon

Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on June 9, 2021

Dry skin, known medically as xerosis or xeroderma, is a thorn in the side of many, developing on any part of the body and appearing seemingly out of the blue. Adding insult to injury, dry skin can also exacerbate the conditions that lead to acne. While a simple fix for dry skin would be nice, the truth is that a number of different factors can cause the skin to dry out — all with different possible solutions as well.

If you’re hoping to get to the bottom of your dry skin issue, you’ll have to know what’s behind it first. Some of the most common causes of dry skin include: 

  1. Dermatitis 

Dermatitis is the medical term for all sorts of different kinds of skin inflammation, many of which are accompanied by dry skin as a symptom. Types of dermatitis that can cause dry skin include:

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  • Atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy, inflamed skin, which often starts in childhood. It can be associated with other “atopic” conditions, such as asthma and hay fever (aka seasonal allergies). Flares can be seasonal, especially in the winter. 
  • Neurodermatitis, inflammation caused by repeated scratching or trauma. This can be associated with atopic dermatitis. 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, is common in sebum-rich areas like the scalp, face (eyebrows, around the nose), and chest. It is thought to be an abnormal inflammatory response to a Pityrosporum (Malassezia) yeast 
  • Stasis dermatitis, skin irritation that arises from fluid buildup in the lower legs (known as venous insufficiency)
  1. Allergic Reactions (Allergic Contact Dermatitis)

Should your skin come in direct contact with a substance to which you are allergic, you may develop a reaction known as allergic contact dermatitis. Reactions such as these are often accompanied by rashes, bumps, blisters, and itchy or dry skin. Common skin-reactive allergens can be found in perfumes, certain jewelry, makeup, hair dyes, or in plants such as poison oak or ivy. 

  1. Contact with Irritants (Irritant Contact Dermatitis)

Irritant-caused reactions are similar to allergic reactions in that they arise after exposure to certain products or materials. What makes irritant contact dermatitis distinct is that it actually harms and dries out the skin by itself instead of causing an allergic (immune system mediated). Certain soaps, types of makeup, or bleach can all irritate the skin in such a way that causes excessive dryness. 

  1. Weather

This might be the one with which most people are familiar: dry skin caused by the onset of winter weather. The arid air of winter combined with drying effects of air that emanates from furnaces can accelerate water loss from the skin’s top layer. This water loss is what causes that famous winter dryness. This isn’t strictly a winter phenomenon, though: air conditioners also produce dry air, and the sweat that comes with summer activity can potentially irritate the skin as well. 

  1. Vitamin Deficiencies

A balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins will generally mean good things from your skin, but various vitamin deficiencies are associated with dry skin rashes.

  1. Psoriasis 

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes skin cells to develop too quickly, leaving them to accumulate on the top layer of the skin surface. This can result in flaky, ashy, or scaly skin that can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the elbows, knees, and scalp. This skin cell accumulation can lead to dryness all on its own, but it can also irritate the skin, making it itchy and thus creating dry skin through excessive scratching. 

  1. Improper Skin Care

Everyone’s skin is different, and not adopting the right skin care routine for your skin type can lead to unwanted reactions such as dry skin. Emollient creams are key for all skin types in order to keep the skin from drying out. Your skin care routine should also adapt to the seasons, to your level of activity, and even the types of clothing or cosmetics you wear — if it doesn’t, the steps you take to protect your skin could end up doing more harm than good. 

Whatever may be causing your dry skin, there are ways to help. Our medical team here at Nurx is available to help — reach out today to learn more about which treatments may be most effective for you.

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