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Dry and Scaly Skin on the Face

Dry and Scaly Skin on the Face Dry and Scaly Skin on the Face

Overview

As the body's largest organ, skin serves as the mediator between the environment and internal organ systems. Its function is to protect the body from pathogens and dehydration. Because the skin is constantly exposed to environmental stresses, it is particularly susceptible to damage. Dry and scaly skin on the face is a fairly common problem with a variety of causes.

Anatomy

The outermost layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum, consists of dead skin cells in a matrix of natural oils produced by living skin cells. The stratum corneum locks in moisture and protects the underlying levels of skin from pathogens and environmental irritants. Both the cells and the oil of the stratum corneum trap a certain amount of water, which provides the skin with its flexibility and plasticity. When the water dries up, the stratum corneum begins to shrink and crack, exposing the underlying skin to environmental irritants.

Causes

When the stratum corneum becomes dehydrated, it begins to crack and flake off. This leaves the face irritated, itchy and red. Several culprits are responsible for dehydrating the stratum corneum. Winter weather, sunburn, too much soapy water, hot water and harsh chemicals are all common causes of dry skin. However, dry and scaly skin is also a symptom of several skin diseases. Consult a dermatologist if your dry skin persists for any extended period of time or if it is causing you discomfort.

Water

It would seem reasonable to treat the dehydrated stratum corneum with water. Bathing, however, can be counterproductive. Hot soapy water strips away the body's natural oils and dries the skin out further. To protect the skin, use lukewarm water when showering and limit the use of soap. The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics recommends that you shower for only 10 minutes every 24 hours to reduce the chance of dryness. Purchase gentle, unscented soap to avoid irritating the damaged skin with perfumes.

Moisturizers

Moisturize immediately after bathing to seal water into the skin before it has a chance to evaporate. Choose moisturizers with humectants like urea and glycerin, which will absorb water from the air, and emollients, which fill in the cracks between cells and temporarily replace natural lipids. Avoid moisturizers with fragrances and perfumes that can irritate the skin. Moisturizers are either oil-based or water-based. Water-based creams feel light and less greasy, but do not stay on the skin for long. Oil-based creams leave behind a thin film covering the skin that will last longer.

Protection

It is very important, even during the winter months, to protect your skin from sun damage. Ultraviolet exposure not only causes cosmetic damage like dry skin, it also puts you at risk for skin cancer. Many facial moisturizers on the market offer an SPF 15 protection. Apply the moisturizer at night before retiring and in the morning after showering.

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