Dry Skin Causes
The Top Three Causes of Dry, Dehydrated Skin
by Dr. Diana Howard
Dry, dehydrated skin can be a temporary condition or a lifelong concern. Dry skin can be
genetically determined or a product of an increasingly stressful lifestyle coupled with continual
exposure to the sun, wind and chemicals in the environment. It can also be caused by the use of
inappropriate products on the skin: meaning it is extremely important that skin care professionals
are highly trained in properly diagnosing dry, dehydrated skin for the most effective treatment and
Dry, or dehydrated?
Before addressing the causes, it’s important to know the difference between dry and dehydrated
• Dry skin, or allipoid skin, generally refers to skin that is lacking in oil.
• Dehydrated skin is characterized by lack of moisture in the Stratum Corneum.
Even oily skin can experience dehydration. As mentioned, dehydration is a lack of water, not oil.
This means sebaceous oil activity can still be normal or even overactive in dehydrated skin.
Both dry and dehydrated skin can experience:
• Irritation, inflammation, itchiness and sensitivity.
• A feeling of tightness or tautness.
• A look or feel of roughness.
• Slight to severe flaking and scaling.
• Fine lines, severe redness and cracks that can sometimes bleed.
The top three causes of dry, dehydrated skin:
Intrinsic aging is the normal process of physical change over time that’s more about genetics than
lifestyle. (Lifestyle-induced aging is known as premature or extrinsic aging.) Sebaceous gland
activity tends to decrease with age, and the skin’s natural hydrators decline over the years. The
skin’s ability to regenerate lipids comprising the protective lipid barrier layer of the Stratum
Corneum also declines with age, as does blood flow to the skin, which may cause a drop in
Prolonged exposure to the sun causes water to evaporate from skin, which is why sunburned skin
requires more moisture than unexposed areas. Cold winds, air conditioning units, forced air
heating and low temperatures can also dry out skin and contribute to premature aging.
The trend of fat-free diets can deprive our bodies of skin-friendly Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs).
This deficiency can result in chronic itching, dryness, scaling, thinning and can lead to an
imbalance in prostaglandins (chemical messengers that do many things, such as control
Excess intake of alcoholic beverages and certain medications (such as nasal decongestants) can
also contribute to dry skin or dehydrated skin.
One of the biggest consequences of dry, dehydrated skin is an increase in sensitivity, as dryness
and dehydration are precursors to sensitized skin. Addressing it quickly can help stave off issues
of sensitization. However, don’t immediately gravitate towards prescribing super-emollient
cleansers and creams, as emollient products could aggravate dehydrated skin that’s also
classified as oily. A thorough skin analysis is your ultimate tool in the successful treatment of this
challenging skin condition.