It’s sort of a trick question. Almost everybody experiences dry skin at some point. And some people have it all the time.
It’s no fun. Flaking, tight, red, cracked, or maybe itchy. It’s uncomfortable and doesn’t look great either.
The reason it’s a trick question is that there are two reasons your skin may feel dry, tight, red, or flaking: oil and water.
And, especially after 40-45, often both. Let me explain.
Oil is your skin’s new best friend
One of the most common questions in skin care is what's my skin type? In the past, you may have been told that your skin is oily, dry, or combination.
The truth is that as you get older, your skin changes.
Each of your pores houses a sebaceous gland that produces your skin’s natural oil (called sebum). This helps keep your skin moist and healthy.
If, as a younger person, your sebaceous glands were working overtime, you had oily skin and maybe breakouts.
In your 40’s, your oil glands become smaller and produce less oil which means your skin is drier even if it was once oily.
Oil and break outs after 50 are usually the result of damage to the skin barrier. Your skin is producing oil trying to defend against the damage. Chances are, your skin is still on the dry side. Now oil is your skin’s best friend.
Ditto for combination skin.
And if your skin was dry before, it may be even more dry.
The treatment for skin that’s not producing oil like it used to is moisturizing. You need to lock in the moisture you have, especially overnight when your skin is working to restore and renew itself. This is done with butters and oils that form a breathable protective layer on your skin.
Water is an important key to (your skin’s) health too
If you remember high school biology, you know that your body is about 60% water. Your skin contains an even higher amount, about 64%. Your skin maintains its water content by preventing moisture loss in the outer layers (known as the skin barrier) with help from your natural oil. And by taking advantage of your beautiful internal hydration system (delivered via circulation from your blood).
Guess where the first place a bit of dehydration shows up is?
That’s right, your skin.
For healthy, moist, plump skin cells you need plenty of moisture from within. That’s why it’s critical to maintain your hydration levels by drinking enough water and eating plenty of super hydrating fruits and vegetables.
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Form the habit of drinking water regularly throughout the day, even if you’re not particularly thirsty.
One of my secrets to staying well hydrated is to front load my water intake in the morning.
When you first get up, drink 16 ounces of water. If you can add electrolytes and/or juice from half a lemon, even better. Drink another 16 ounce glass when you have your coffee or tea.
Then drink a few sips from your water bottle or a glass of water thoughout the day. It’s easier for your body to absorb small, regular amounts of (room temperature or warm) water than a few big glasses all at once.
Try it, especially the morning water for a week. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how much better your feel. And how much better your skin looks and feels.
Hydration directly to your skin cells
In your skin care, hydrating ingredients (known as humectants) draw water to the skin cells. Hyaluronic acid, knwn as HA, is one of the most powerful humectants in skincare. Glycerin is also a humectant.
Hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by our bodies. It can draw and hold 1000x its weight in water. This powerhouse keeps skin moisturized, facilitates skin repair, helps in transportation of blood and nutrients to skin layers, and helps plump up skin cells to provide cushioning and lubrication to the cells (and make them look great too).
As you grow in years, your body naturally makes less hyaluronic acid. Which adds to sin dryness.
Thankfully, you can add it back into your skin with skincare products.
Humectants draw moisture to your skin cells.
Moisturizing butters and oils help seal in that moisture.
They support and protect the skin’s barrier and provide nutrients such as essential fatty acids, lipids, minerals, and vitamins.
Using a nourishing moisturizer that contains both HA or glycerin and butter and oils twice a day has been shown to improve the skin barrier and reduce inflammation.*
You also need to protect your skin
Your skin also needs protection from outside elements that can suck water from the outer layers. Things like:
- dry air
- indoor heating
- some medications
- harsh soaps
- too much hot water or chlorinated water
- over-exfoliation-be gentle with your skin and use a soft washcloth or an enzyme exfoliator rather than a scrub, and not more than once a week
It’s ironic that exposure to water, especially hot water, can cause your skin to become dehydrated and dry. The reason all the elements from the outside can dry the skin is because of damage to the skin barrier.
What is the skin barrier?
Your skin barrier is the outer most layer of your skin. It‘s what you see when you look in the mirror. Its job is to protect your skin from outside elements and keep your skin from drying out.
I like to think about the skin barrier as a protective wall.
The bricks are the skin cells. Skin cells start off deeper in the epidermis and migrate their way towards the outer layer over the course of a month or so (longer as we age). As they move upward, they change shape and die off and are eventually shed. The outer layer of your skin is actually made up of flattened dead skin cells.
The mortar in between the skin cells is called the lipid matrix-a mixture of natural fats and oils.
Together the bricks and mortar of your skin barrier help keep your skin hydrated and soft by holding moisture in. The barrier keeps out most chemicals, viruses and bacteria. But, it’s also permeable and allows certain molecules to penetrate into the deeper layers.
If the skin barrier is damaged, your skin gets dry and flaky because the natural moisturizers are disturbed and there are gaps in the wall. Water can more easily evaporate across the barrier, known as transdermal moisture loss.
Hello, chapped, cracked, flaking, red skin.
What you can do about dry and dehydrated skin
Dry and dehydrated skin can happen at any age. But as you age, your skin becomes thinner and your skin barrier is more susceptible to damage.
This means that keeping the barrier in good shape is more critical than ever.
Obviously, it’s important to stay well hydrated and eliminate the outside sources of damage:
- Use a humidifier at night to help with dry indoor heat
- Try to take shorter and/or less hot showers and baths
- Eliminate harsh soaps especially ones that are perfumed or anti bacterial
- Cover as much as your skin as you can if you’re going to be out in the elements
- Be sure to use sun protection every day
- Moisturize your skin
Here’s the good news. The first and most important thing you can do to protect your skin barrier and fight against dry and dehydrated skin is to moisturize.
You can protect and restore your skin’s barrier by using skin care that includes hydrating and moisturizing ingredients. Study after study shows that using a moisturizer can protect the skin barrier and allow it restore itself.
Take good care of your skin
If you’re over 40 and especially if you’re over 50, your skin is going to become drier and thinner no matter what your “skin type” has been before.
Add in some naturally skin-dehydrating weather (in winter especially) and you’ve got a recipe for dry, flaky, uncomfortable skin that doesn’t look so hot. And when your skin barrier is damaged, you’re more susceptible to other skin problems like infections, eczema, and rashes.
But, not to worry. With a few lifestyle changes and twice a day (at least) moisturizing, your skin can keep its healthy glow year around.