There’s a reason why dry skin is one of the most common skin concerns. Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and since it’s constantly changing and regenerating, it’s always susceptible to attack. Your skin is your body’s first line of defense when it comes to protecting you from the elements. Both external and internal factors are important to turn dull, cracked skin into a healthy, glowing complexion.
How the skin works
Your skin is made up of two layers: the outer epidermis and the inner dermis. Your epidermis is largely responsible for the health and appearance of your skin. The outermost layer of the epidermis is your stratum corneum, shown to directly contribute to maintaining and sustaining healthy skin. Your stratum corneum is also segmented. Dead, keratin-filled cells have been pushed to the surface by the lower basal layer. [NIH]
This surface level of your skin consists of dead skin cells and oils, cemented together to form a protective layer. They cover the living skin cells underneath to protect them from infection, dehydration, chemicals, and other hazards. These dead skin cells also retain water to keep your skin healthy and hydrated.
Cells in the deepest layer of your epidermis are constantly dividing to make new ones. These new cells are pushed toward the surface of your skin, where they rub against and replace surface cells that flake off. This process is constant and ongoing. You have roughly 1.6 trillion skin cells in your body, and 30,000 to 40,000 cells fall off every hour. In a day, you’ll have lost almost one million skin cells. In sum, this means that our bodies produce a new epidermis about every 30 days. [Health]
This rejuvenation process reveals why it takes time from when you first start to implement a skin care regimen to when you start to see results. Dry skin can often improve after four weeks when you have an entirely rejuvenated epidermis.
What causes dry skin?
As we age, we become more vulnerable to dry skin, dullness, and a loss of firmness. The epidermis thins as we age, so water retention decreases and the skin is more vulnerable to dehydration. In addition, the skin’s ability to regenerate lipids that make up the stratum corneum declines. This means that essential fatty acids are even more important to support soft skin over time.
Family medicine and integrative and holistic medicine physician Dr. Shilpi Agarwal says: “The most common causes of dry skin are cold weather exposure and lifestyle habits that remove moisture from the skin by depleting the natural oils our bodies produce. During fall and winter, the body is suddenly exposed to cool air that often lacks humidity and can create dry, irritated skin.” In addition, sun exposure in the summer along with dry, arid climates can damage cells and limit the skin’s ability to hold onto moisture or repair itself. Mia Belle, paramedical aesthetician and CEO of Mia Belle Skin, describes the process: “Your body via the organ of the skin will try to keep itself hydrated by absorbing water from its external environment. If you live in a dry environment, it will have to grab more water internally to keep hydrated, eventually creating epidermal water loss.”
Nutrition AND Lifestyle
Lifestyle and diet habits can also dehydrate and dry out your skin. Fat-free diets, for instance, can deprive the skin of essential fatty acids [Dermal Institute]. Registered dietitian Alex Caspero says, “The skin barrier is made up of many types of lipids, including phospholipids, cholesterol, and free fatty acids. When the skin doesn’t have enough of these fats, water can easily escape through the barrier, resulting in dehydrated skin.”
In addition, alcohol and caffeine are diuretics that dehydrate the skin. Next, sugary foods break down collagen and elastin, thus dulling the skin. Belle emphasizes the role that collagen plays in helping to hydrate your skin for a plump, healthy appearance. “Think of a baby. We held more water and had more active collagen in our skin when we were young. The older we get, the more collagen support we need to give our system.”
4 Simple steps to stop dull, dry skin in its tracks
1. A Hydrating Routine
Daily moisturizing is key to prevent dry skin. Avoid long, hot showers that strip your skin of essential oils. Take shorter, lukewarm showers with unscented soaps instead. (Scented soaps with chemicals can inflame skin.)
Dr. Agarwal recommends applying natural oil like coconut or almond immediately after showering. Quickly rinse off and pat dry. This timing will help your skin stay moisturized all day.
For people with dry skin, it’s important not to over-exfoliate since skin is vulnerable to irritation. However, this doesn’t mean to forego exfoliating altogether. After you turn 20, your skin cell turnover slows and dead skin cells can pile up, diffuse light, and make skin look dull. [Allure]
2. Foods that make a difference
Studies suggest that citrus fruits, nuts, whole grains, broccoli, and eggs help hydrate the skin. These foods are high in vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E that nourish your skin, improve water retention, and repair sun damage. [Health]
According to Belle, balancing your blood-sugar level is also key. “Elevated blood sugar causes osmotic diuresis, where the sugar exits through your kidneys and carries water out with it, creating dehydration.” In addition to choosing fruits and veggies, you’ll want to avoid refined sugars, processed foods, and simple carbs. This diet will keep your blood more alkaline than acidic, the latter of which leaches minerals from your body and weakens your adrenals.
Of course, drinking enough water—especially in climates where skin is prone to dehydration—can’t be emphasized enough. Take this tip from Dr. Agarwal: “As the weather gets cold, try warm water with lemon or a decaf, herbal tea.”
Belle adds that the body can hydrate even more efficiently when we eat our water. “Watermelon, cucumber, apple, and celery slowly hydrate as they make their way through our digestive system,” she says. Thus, they’re amazing choices for rejuvenating dull, dry skin.
3. The role of healthy fats AND vitamins
“Healthy fats provide the framework necessary for well-moisturized skin,” Dr. Agarwal notes. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are polyunsaturated fats that help produce the skin’s natural oil barrier, and are critical to keep the skin hydrated and vibrant. Some studies reveal that EFAs reduce inflammation linked to acne. Others have even found that psoriasis treatment that combined medication with EFA supplementation was more successful than with medication alone. [U.S. News]
Dr. Agarwal says that if you can’t get omega-3s in your daily diet, a supplement is another great option. High-quality fish-oil supplements are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that can hydrate your skin from within. When choosing a fish oil, make sure you’re paying attention to the milligrams of EPA and DHA, the actual omega-3 content that replenishes dry skin. For a plant-based option, the omegas are listed as ALA, and can be found from oils such as black currant seeds or sunflower seeds. [U.S. News]
Caspero says, “If you have a hard time eating enough omega-3 fatty acids, consider adding HUM’s OMG! Omega the Great to your routine for healthy, hydrated skin. Vegetarian? No problem: HUM’s Red Carpet is also a winning choice.”
The OMG! Omega the Great fish oil contains 800 mg EPA and 400mg DHA – aka the ideal clinically-studied 2:1 ratio. Red Carpet, a vegetarian alternative with omegas derived from black currant oil, is packed with 120mg ALA and 150mg GLA to nourish and hydrate skin cells by providing them with healthy oils.
For skin over 40, Belle recommends Arctic Repair to help improve and strengthen the skin barrier. It’ll lock in moisture for a smooth, glowing complexion. Arctic Repair is packed with 657mg omega-3 ALA, as well as 500mg of omega-6 and 207mg omega-9 from the rejuvenating lingonberry seed. Its unique balance of omegas boost skin hydration and elasticity to achieve a radiant glow plus smoother, firmer skin.
Additionally, advanced antioxidants and phytonutrients protect against cell damage, promote cellular health, and support skin rejuvenation. HUM’s Turn Back Time contains advanced antioxidants, phytonutrient-rich anti-inflammatory turmeric, and green tea polyphenols to help keep skin nourished, firm, and glowing.