Healthy Ways to Deal with Dry Skin

It’s easy to ignore your skin when it’s doing its job right. For most people, basic washing and a little sunscreen is all they need. But when you have a problem with your skin, it can be all-consuming. Acne can break your self-confidence, eczema can cause itchy rashes, and sunburn can make sleep—and pats on the back—uncomfortable. Even a problem as seemingly simple as dry skin can be painful. 
Dry Skin 101
Dry skin doesn’t discriminate; it can affect anyone. It happens when skin loses too much water or oil. However, as you age, your skin becomes thinner and drier, leaving those in their 40s and beyond more susceptible to dry skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. People living in dry climates and who suffer from other skin diseases (such as eczema and psoriasis) are prone to dry skin as well. Furthermore, washing your hands frequently—common if you’re a health care professional or are around children all day—and swimming can both sap your skin of needed moisture.
Once dry skin sneaks up on you, its symptoms are clear: Your skin may feel itchy, rough, and flaky, and you may experience chapped or cracked lips. Your skin may even crack and bleed if the dryness is severe enough, which can allow germs into the body and cause infection. That's why prevention and treatment of dry skin isn't just about vanity—it's important for your health.
Short-Term Dry Skin Fixes
Fortunately, a few simple steps can help combat skin dryness. First, applying a moisturizer throughout the day can help prevent your skin from losing moisture. The AAD recommends looking for a product that contains petrolatum or lanolin, which help seal moisture into your skin.
If you’re suffering from dry skin, take a look at some of your other habits as well. Long, hot showers can deplete the skin’s moisture, so cutting the length, frequency and temperature of your showers can help, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH also recommends the use of mild soaps instead of harsh cleansers to avoid further irritating the skin. You could also try using a humidifier to add moisture back into the air at home. If you spend a lot of time outside in the cold, cover your skin to protect it and to avoid further irritation.
If these steps don’t work and your dry skin is still hanging around, see your health care provider or a dermatologist. These professionals can prescribe a prescription medication that will give you relief.
Long-Term Skin Health
Healthy, well-balanced diets are beneficial to every organ in your body, including the skin. If you’re looking to promote healthy skin from the inside out for long-term skin health, make sure you’re getting foods rich in these key nutrients.
  • Vitamin A helps the skin function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. Sources include carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach and kale.
  • Vitamin C also protects cells from damage, helps maintain a healthy immune system and promotes wound healing, which can help you recover from dry skin. Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit are great sources, as are broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E helps protect cells from damage. Sources include certain fortified breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds and peanut butter.
  • Folate (and folic acid, folate's synthetic counterpart) helps in the production and maintenance of cells. Sources include fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, beans, peas and asparagus.
  • Zinc helps the immune system fight off invaders and speeds up the healing process, so it is a vital nutrient in dry skin recovery. Oysters are the best source of zinc, but red meat, poultry, fortified breakfast cereals, beans and nuts are also good sources.
  • Water. Staying hydrated can help your skin retain necessary moisture. Aim for your eight cups of water daily—maybe more if you're still exhibiting signs of dehydration, which can include dry skin.
When it comes to dry skin, prevention is your best bet. In addition to eating a well-balanced diet, protect your skin from harsh conditions and lotion up regularly to help your skin retain moisture. If those rough patches still appear despite your diligence, see your doctor to avoid suffering from dry skin in any season.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

American Academy of Dermatology. "Dry Skin," accessed September 2011.
MedlinePlus. "Dry Skin," accessed September 2011.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. "Folate," "Vitamin A and Carotenoids," "Vitamin E," "Vitamin C," and "Zinc,"accessed September 2011.