Skin dryness is common as a person gets older, even well before the senior years. It is usually not a serious condition and is given little thought but dry skin can lead to a host of skin disorders. Some of these skin problems can be chronic and cause permanent skin damage. Fortunately dry skin is easily treated and constant maintenance of the skin means that it is little more than an inconvenience to the elderly. As with any condition, dry skin should be treated early to prevent any skin problems.
The skin is a physical barrier protecting the delicate interior environment of body from the harsh exterior. It is bombarded daily with all types of insults from dust, wind, sun, foreign organisms and various chemicals. In order to fulfil its protective function and maintain its integrity, skin has to be healthy.
One of the important components of skin health is its moisture. The inner layers are nourished in the same way as any other living tissue and the outer layers need a combination of water and oil to remain healthy. Normally the skin can maintain itself but with age-related changes, the skin’s ability to moisturize itself and retain this moisture diminishes. Skin dryness then becomes evident.
Apart from age-related changes to the skin that causes moisture loss and leads to reduced skin oils, there are various other factors that contribute to skin dryness. Heat, cold and wind whether from natural or artificial sources like with air conditioning, central heating and an electric fan all promote drying of the skin. This may also occur with very hot baths or showers and the use of harsh soaps, particularly strongly scented varieties.
Sometimes dryness of the skin is a result of skin diseases or even health problems that do not directly involve the skin. Psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, are two skin diseases marked by excessively dry skin. It is therefore important to differentiate between these skin diseases and dryness associated with age and environmental conditions. Other diseases like an underactive thyroid gland and even certain medication may also be responsible. The health of the skin is also reflected by the overall health of the body and nutritional status, which also has to be taken into consideration.
Dry skin often leads to itchiness. Scratching can break the skin and introduce bacteria into the wound. This can lead to superficial skin infections like folliculitis or even deep infections such as cellulitis. These infections can be dangerous and even life threatening. Dry skin also increases skin wrinkles and various other cosmetic changes in the skin associated with age. A person who has suffered with skin diseases like eczema in life is more likely to have this condition recur if the skin is dry.
In most cases, dry skin does not need any specific medical treatment. Simple measures like moisturizing the skin immediately after bathing and regularlythroughout the day is sufficient. For added protection, more oily applications can be applied after the skin moisturizer absorbs into the skin. These oily applications seal in the moisture. Avoid bathing with very hot water and use gentle soaps that are unscented, like baby soaps, to prevent drying of the skin. Itching, scaling skin or a skin rash should first be examined by a doctor who can then prescribe the appropriate treatment when necessary.