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If you’ve got dry skin, you probably use a range of products that are said to be specifically suited to your skin type, and not oily skin. You’ve also probably wondered what makes your skin dry in the first place. Today, we’re about to break it down for you.


Our skin gets dry when the skin’s outermost layer has reduced water content– and there are many reasons this could happen.


Before getting into those reasons, we’re going to take a quick look at what goes on in this layer.


The Stratum Corneum:


The outermost layer of our skin is made up of dead skin cells, and is called the stratum corneum. Its main function is to retain the water content in our skin.


This water content, held inside stratum corneum with the help of various proteins (like keratin and a few others), has many functions:

1. It maintains the skin’s flexibility.
2. It circulates enzymes that are vital for the skin’s turnover cycle.
3. It extracts water from the environment (which it can do even at very low levels of humidity), because of the proteins and salts it contains.2
4. It protects the skin from the UV rays of the sun as it contains urocanic acid, which is a natural UV absorber.3


Every 30-45 days, the stratum corneum is replaced by a new layer, as the dead skin cells keep shedding. This is called the skin’s turnover cycle. A lot goes into ensuring a smooth turnover. Disruptions within this cycle could lead to the loss of water in the layer that finally becomes part of the stratum corneum. Alternatively, some factors can even rob the stratum corneum of whatever moisture it does contain.


Here are some of the ‘disruptions’ and factors that would lead to the reduced water content:


A] UV rays of the sun:

Excess exposure to the sun’s UV can damage the proteins in the stratum corneum. This would, as you can imagine, also reduce the water content that they hold.


B] Skin Disorders:

Water can also be lost because of underlying skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.


C] Nutritional deficiencies:

Deficiencies in certain nutrients can also lead to dry skin. For example, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium help extract water from the environment.


B] Fat content:

The stratum corneum also has some fats that seal in the water, preventing it from getting evaporated. “Good” cholesterol and Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are some of these fats. If you aren’t getting the right amount in your diet, that would lead to the loss of water.1


C] Weather conditions:

We all know that low humidity and extreme temperatures dry the water in the skin. This also, interestingly, disrupts the skin’s turnover cycle, because some proteins require water to carry out their functions.5


So, what can we do about all of this?


A] Apply moisturisers –

Emolients are non-cosmetic moiturisers available over-the-counter, with ingredients (like plant extracts and fats) that relieve dry skin.6


B] Focus on nutrition –

For example:

1. The  “good” fats that lock in the skin’s moisture can be obtained from food like nuts, avocados, flaxseed, fish, tofu and olives
2. Eating plenty of leafy greens and dairy will increase our calcium and vitamin K levels, which helps regulate the salt content in the skin’s water
3. Vitamin C helps maintain our skin’s structure by aiding the production of collagen. Citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, kale and papaya are all rich in vitamin C
4. Antioxidants: several natural food pigments can help manage conditions like eczema and psoriasis that are characterized by dry skin and inflammation. They do so by neutralizing the free radicals that aggravate the inflammation and breakdown of proteins.
1. Harding CR, et al. International journal of cosmetic science 2000, 22(1): 21-52.

2. Blank IH. The Journal of investigative dermatology 1952, 18(6): 433-440.

3. Angelin J. Cosmetics Toiletries 1976, 19: 47-49. ‘

4. Rawlings AV, et al. Dermatologic therapy 2004, 17 Suppl 1: 43-48.

5. Vyumvuhore R, et al. The Analyst 2013, 138(14): 4103-4111.

6. Proksch E, et al. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology : JDDG 2005, 3(10): 768-774.

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