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Help for Dry Skin

Have you ever wondered whether your skin looks more human or reptilian, you have probably complained about dry skin. You represent the one out of three Americans with dry skin, and by now you’ve probably tried scores of moisturizers. But despite advertiser promises of smooth, soft skin, moisturizers generally do little to remedy the problem.

Whether mildly flaky or painfully cracked and itchy, skin that is dry can more closely resemble reptile hide than the tender, supple skin we are meant to have. It’s more than just a cosmetic problem, though. As the body’s largest organ, your skin is the first line of protection against invading microorganisms. When your skin dries and cracks, it leaves you vulnerable to invasion by harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

For most people, dry skin is simply the result of dry air, harsh soaps, hot water, and the wrong moisturizer. Other common causes of dry skin include food allergies or sensitivities, malabsorption, or a deficiency of essential fatty acids or fat-soluble vitamins. Conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or psoriasis are factors that should also be considered when diagnosing the cause of dry skin.

The logical response to dry skin is to reach for a moisturizer. But moisturizers may not help, and they can even be dangerous to your health. Because skin is permeable, any substance applied to it will quickly be absorbed into the bloodstream and circulated to your organs and tissues. Most conventional moisturizers and body care products contain a staggering number of toxic substances, including the ubiquitous ingredient mineral oil—a known carcinogen. Recent studies show that mineral oil stimulates the growth of skin cancers. Fortunately, the simplest and most affordable moisturizers are also the most effective—and they’re the healthiest for your skin and overall health. Shea butter and pure coconut oil are two good examples.

Whatever the cause, you must change the way you treat your skin and use appropriate moisturizers if you want smoother, healthier skin. Dietary changes are also helpful in alleviating dry skin. Drinking more water seems like a logical decision and is often promoted as a remedy for dry skin, but in reality, eating more fat is far more important. Without a sufficient intake of healthful dietary fats, your skin cannot produce enough sebum, the natural protective barrier of oil that prevents moisture loss. Dry skin is one of the hallmarks of a low-fat diet. When healthful fats such as organic butter, coconut oil, and olive oil are added to the diet, skin is naturally moisturized from the inside out.

What Is Known About Dry Skin
Your skin is designed to be self-lubricating. Every inch of skin (except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet) contains sebaceous glands that produce sebum. This natural oil lubricates your skin, keeping it soft and supple. A thin layer of sebum also creates a protective barrier that prevents moisture loss and keeps out dirt and pollutants.

Modern life is hard on skin, though. Overly frequent bathing, hot water, harsh soaps, and indoor heating strip away the protective lipid barrier, leaving skin dry and vulnerable. Dry skin can appear anywhere on the body, but it’s most common on the face, hands, arms, lower legs, and back. Flaking and itching are typical symptoms of mild dry skin. Cracking, peeling, eczema, severe itching, and even infection can arise if dry skin goes untreated. For the majority of people, making simple changes in their skincare routine is enough to remedy even the driest skin.

Hot showers and baths and too-frequent bathing are the most common reasons for dry skin. Although as a society we’re accustomed to daily showers, if you suffer from dry skin, consider bathing less frequently and instead alternate with sponge baths. Whether showering or bathing, avoid using soap except where absolutely necessary (e.g., underarms). Never use deodorant or antibacterial soaps; instead choose fragrance-free soaps or gentle soap-free skin cleansers.

Make sure you’re also using natural laundry detergents without irritating perfumes or other synthetic ingredients.

A common mistake when using moisturizers is applying them to dry skin. The function of a moisturizer is to seal moisture into the skin. To be effective, a moisturizer should be applied to damp skin—immediately after showering is the perfect time. Avoid moisturizers that contain alcohol, perfumes, or synthetic ingredients, all of which can be drying and irritating.

Dry air—whether year-round in an arid climate or in wintertime in most locales—is another prevalent cause of dry skin. Dry outdoor weather dehydrates the skin, but staying indoors isn’t necessarily a better option because indoor heating or air conditioning is equally drying. To protect against indoor dry air, use a humidifier to maintain humidity at a level that’s healthier for your skin.

Although external factors are the most widespread cause of dry skin, internal factors can also come into play. Drugs such as diuretics can dry out skin, as can topical medications like retinoids. As people age, their skin often becomes drier, particularly as hormone levels drop. Health conditions associated with dry skin include the obvious (eczema and psoriasis) and the not-so-obvious (diabetes and hypothyroidism). If dry skin persists despite following the program we recommend, consult your health care practitioner for advice.

Healthy Steps: Dry Skin—First Steps
For the greatest improvement with the fewest steps, do the following:

  • Limit yourself to 5-minute showers or bathe in mineral rich salt baths and essential oils. Use plain salt or Argan oil scrubs to exfoliate the dry skin. Use a mild, natural soap for spot bathing as necessary.
  • Apply a natural moisturizer such as coconut oil (Dr. Bronner's is the easiest coconut oil to use for topical application) immediately after bathing.
  • Consume liberal amounts of healthful fats such as omega-3 fats, organic butter, and coconut oil.
  • Supplement with Barlean's Omega 3 Swirls (the flavor of your choice), starting at 1000 mg and increase up to 3000 mg daily if you don't eat wild-caught fish.

Healthy Steps: Dry Skin—Full Program
Follow my basic nutrition and healthy lifestyle guidelines, with the following modifications:

Savor Helpful Foods

  • Fresh, unprocessed foods. Select fresh foods and avoid processed foods to enhance your body’s ability to moisturize skin from the inside.
  • High-quality animal fats. Eat organic meats, full-fat organic dairy, wild-caught seafood, and pastured eggs. These supply valuable fatty acids that support the production of sebum, the skin’s natural protective oils.
  • Healthful vegetable oils. Choose organic, cold-pressed virgin coconut, olive oils and organic butter to supply additional fatty acids essential for skin health. Take four tablespoons daily.
  • Flax oil. The best source of flax oil comes from freshly ground flax seeds or a high quality flax oil.

Supplements can help

  • Supplement with Barlean's Omega 3 Swirls (the flavor of your choice), starting at 1000 mg and increase up to 3000 mg daily if you don't eat wild-caught fish.

Daily Life Activities
Prevent excessive drying of your skin with these measures:

  • Avoid excessive bathing. However, if you love your daily bath use wonderful mineral rich, add bath salts or essential oils to your bath water. If you use Epsom salts, choose products that are suitable for ingestion, even for bathing.
  • Avoid soap. Most of the time I do not recommend using soap on your body, except for spot cleaning. Choose a goat milk based soap.
  • Moisturize. Immediately after bathing, moisturize liberally with an organic healing such as Aim 2 Health Double Strength Theracream  or shea butter or Weleda's skin care products.  Avoid lotions, which are primarily water-based and do not provide sufficient oil.
  • For dry lips use Dr. Bronner's lip care sticks (for my money, the best lip balm!) or try Manuka honey overnight on your lips.
  • Humidify. Use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor air.
  • Avoid environmental extremes. Protect your skin from exposure to harsh elements such as excessive sun, wind, or cold. Use scarves, hats, and other appropriate protective gear.

Dry Skin Prevention
Our modern obsession with cleanliness is rough on skin. In truth, few of us get dirty enough in our everyday lives to justify a daily full-body shower or bath. There’s no question a bath or shower feels great, and most of us are accustomed to the ritual either as part of our morning wake-up routine or as a way of relaxing in the evening before bed. The problem is long hot daily showers or baths wash away the skin’s natural protective oils, and the soaps we usually use exacerbate the dry skin problem.

You don’t need to forgo personal hygiene, but to prevent dry skin, choose brief showers over baths. Avoid overly hot water and use mild natural soaps only where absolutely necessary for hygiene. As an alternative to using soap on your body, gently dry brush your skin before showering with a soft natural bristle brush and rinse quickly with warm water. Gently brushing the skin not only removes dead skin cells and cleanses the skin, but it also helps stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce oil. After showering, pat your body dry with a soft towel and immediately apply a natural moisturizer such as coconut oil or shea butter.

Along with adopting an appropriate skin care routine, make it a priority to consume a liberal amount of healthful fats, including organic butter, omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish, coconut oil, and avocados. These fats provide your body with the nutrients it needs to produce sebum, the skin’s natural protective moisturizing oil.

From Dr. Deborah’s Desk
Although seemingly a minor topic, dry skin becomes a source of both discomfort and potential problems in dry winter areas. Dry skin often itches and breaks easily when scratched, increasing the risk of rashes and infection. Ellen, an older woman I have known for years, came in last winter with a very itchy and irritated upper back: skin locations she couldn’t reach on her own. She even arranged a few massages for the oil application, but wanted to treat the problem herself. We added more fats to her diet and increased her cod liver oil, adding butter oil, and when wintry weather returned this year, she snuck in an update during another visit, “Now I just get massages for the massage, not the oil. My back is so much better this year!”

As a further footnote, I have always applied cream or oil in the morning, only to look at dry and flaky skin as the day progressed. Since switching to a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, and high fat diet, I notice that I never want to re-apply moisturizer as the day goes on. 


This information is provided for educational purposes only, and any individual diagnosis or treatment should be determined by you and your doctor. See Additional Information.

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