Dry, itchy and flaky skin affects many of us on both the face and body. So, what are the best things for it?
Dry skin is quite common, in fact 1 in 5 people who’ve done the Harley Street Emporium Skin Care Test say it is one of their concerns. Most often it’s the face that people worry about, but dry skin can also affect the body and is often worse in the colder months.
Causes of dry, flaky skin
Why does our skin get dry and flaky?
Hereditary issues pay a role, and out skin tends to dry more as we age – especially on the lower legs, and there are some medical conditions or medications that can dry the skin as well – you GP should be able to advise you on this.
But there are a number of simple everyday reasons as well. Knowing what these are and what to do about them can help keep the dryness at bay.
- indoor heating – this can take the humidity out of the air which can in turn make your skin dryer. Try a humidifier or placing a bowl or water in front of the heater to try and keep the humidity up.
- electric blankets – as comfortable and warm as they are, it’s best to turn them off when you get into bed as that long exposure to heat can dry your skin.
- long, hot baths or showers – as lovely as these are that hot water is stripping the skin of its natural oils, so best to keep them cooler and shorter.
- too much soap and scrubbing- lathering up and having a good scrub is great but over exfoliating and using harsh soaps can dry the skin. Swap to a soap-free soap and give harsh scrubs and mits a miss as they can damage the skin barrier.
- alcohol based skin care products like wipes or certain acne products – these can strip the skin of their natural oils too and temporarily dry it out.
What can help sooth dry, flakey and irritated skin?
We’re pretty savvy about skin care on our face but we don’t pay so much attention to our body. But it needs the same kind of ingredients as we’d apply to our face.
For both face and body the ingredients to look out for in skin care products include:
- AHA/BHA/Poly hydroxy acids – these are things like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandeic acid, salicylic acid, maltobionic acid or gluconolactone. We often think of them as exfoliators that can clear pores, decongest the skin and leave in clean, clear and glowing, but some like gluconolactone, can bind with water molecules and help hydrate the skin.
- Ceramides – these are natural fatty acid that are found in the skin. They help protect the skin barrier and also help reduce what’s known as trans-epidermal water loss or TEWL.
- Hyaluronic acid – this is found in our skin but declines with age.
- Vitamins B3, C and E – these are a great antioxidants that can help with skin repair and maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Look for niacinamide, L-ascorbic acid and Tocopherol on the ingredients list.
- Aloe Vera – this is often found in skin care as it’s hydrating and easily absorbed.
- Glycerin – this is derived from plants and works to draw water into the skin.
- Urea – this is often found in skin care products too as it draws water into the skin as well. It’s sometimes recommended for people with keratosis pilaris or ‘chicken skin’.
- Shea butter and coconut butter can help but these may also cause breakouts so be careful on the face if you are prone to break out.
These are just a few to keep an eye out for. Keeping well hydrated is important too so drink lots of water and less caffeine and alcohol.
Avoiding products with alcohol in them is important too, but beware – not all things that say alcohol on the ingredients list are bad – some are even hydrating.
Lauryl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol and Myristyl alcohol for example are non-drying unlike other simple alcohols like methanol, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol.
They are used for their emollient or moisturising properties for skin concerns such as dullness, uneven texture and fine lines and wrinkles, with the purpose to ultimately repair the skin’s barrier. You can read more about alcohol in skin care products here.
What about really cracked, flaky and dry skin on your body?
As we age the our skin does become drier and the lower legs are especially prone to flaky skin and even plaques of skin. This is where the stronger glycolic acid products come into their own. Some are great for keeping the dry bumps associated with keratosis pilaris under control by exfoliation or to repair dry and cracked heels. Some also combine vitamin C to help and repair the skin.
Some of them contain 20-30% glycolic acid – so they aren’t for the faint hearted. Often they’re good to use for a few weeks to get things smooth and clear and then once a week or so after that to maintain that feeling smooth. In between a good general moisturiser should suffice.
So which does what? Some products that are good examples for the body – from mildest to strongest:
1. Harley Street Skin Care Regenerating Body Moisturiser. This comes from Dr Aamer Khan’s skin care rage. It is a glycolic acid based lotion that gently exfoliates the skin, removing the dead, flakey cells and improving skin tone and glow. Glycolic acid is also good at improving the appearance of sun-damaged skin. It also contains silk extracts and aloe to help hydrate. This is useful for dull, dry, flakey and ageing skin and can be used every day.
2. NeoStrata Problem Dry Skin Cream. This is a 20% glycolic acid cream with hydrating moisturisers including maltobionic acid, vitamin E and beeswax that targets:
- Dry, scaly skin or rough skin
- Keratosis Pilaris (chicken skin)
- Hyperkeratosis (thickened skin often on heels, elbows and knees).
This is what it achieves in 3 weeks with heavily calloused skin on the heels.
What about the face?
Dr Ginni Mansberg, co-founder of Evidence Skincare or ESK says the cooler months can make dry skin worse, so this is the time to start using a calming and nourishing cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin. Soap on the face is a no-no at anytime but especially dry skin.
She says look for products that have niacinamide (vitamin B3), ceramides and peptides as they can help repair and fortify the skin barrier as can Vitamin A. She recommends retinal over retinol as she says it is more effective and has the benefit of being less irritating.
She also says, don’t forget your sunscreen – even in winter. You may not burn but the sun’s damaging UVA rays are still active so you need a broad spectrum SPF all year round. (And remember UVA goes through glass – so even if your inside – use a sunscreen.)
1. ESK Peptide Primer as a base under make up as it’s peptides and blend of botanicals help sooth the skin. It is safe to use during pregnancy too.
2. ESK B quenched – a perfect mix of niacinamide and hemp seed oil that hydrates and soothes dry and irritated skin.
3. Ultimate A – a night cream that combines retinal and niacinamide to repair the skin barrier, promote collagen and reduce uneven skin and pigmentation.
Two other excellent products are DCL’s Ultra comfort cream is ideal for dry and dehydrated skin as it the Teoxane Deep Repair Balm. They both contain hyaluronic acid and soothing botanicals to calm dry and irritated skin.
When to see a doctor?
If your skin has small itchy pimple like spots, has a rash or is itchy and it doesn’t go away after a week or so, it’s best to pop in to see your GP as you may have an infection, fungal or allergy that needs looking at.
If a rash, blisters or welts have appeared suddenly, or if you have a fever with them, don’t wait. Book in to see your doctor or one of the dermatologists in our doctors section.