Devanshi Garg Sareen

Symptoms & Causes of Dry Skin on Your Face

Image of dry skin texture and how to treat it

We call New York home — and over the past few weeks we’ve had days that are bitterly cold, surprisingly sunny, and everything in between. It definitely hasn’t been for the faint of heart. 

In our eyes, winter is a test for how adaptable the skin can be. Decreased sunlight exposure leads to fluctuating hormones, which impacts oil production and hydration. If your skin is somehow not aggravated by the winter season, we’d love to know your secrets. If you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably going through a similar skincare reckoning: feeling itchy, dry, flaky, and tight. 

The good news is that our skin can exist in a balanced state, all year-round. This resilience can be reached by long-lasting routines rooted in deep hydration and skin barrier support. 

What is dry skin and why does it happen?

Dry skin is uncomfortable. Fact. It can make you feel like regardless of what you do, there’s no way to replenish the deep dehydration and tightness you feel. Frustrating to both experience and to problem solve, the best way to ensure supple skin is to understand what’s really going on behind the scenes. 

Scientifically recognized as xerosis, dry skin is a common condition characterized by a lack of moisture in the outer epidermis — also known as our skin barrier. An image of a brick and mortar wall may come to mind as the skin barrier quite literally forms a barrier made up of lipids like ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol to protect the skin and keep moisture in. Our skin’s ability to retain moisture also depends on natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) like hyaluronic acid and urea, which attract and retain water molecules. 

Skin barrier is like a brick and mortar wall made of lipids and ceramides

So what happens when our skin barrier is compromised? Going back to the brick and mortar analogy, if the wall (aka our skin barrier) is compromised — it simply doesn’t protect the many layers of the skin effectively. In particular, a compromised skin barrier loses its ability to retain moisture, leading to transepidermal water loss (TEWL), or dehydrated skin. The result is skin that is dull, flaky, and easily irritated. A compromised skin barrier also allows irritants to penetrate, compounding stressors and triggering a state of low-grade inflammation. 

If you think you have a damaged skin barrier, read this for 7 signs that your skin barrier is damaged.

Why is my skin so dry?

There are many factors that trigger dry skin. It can be a result of shifts in seasons or a telltale sign that something is off-kilter internally — understanding and then targeting those triggers can inform just how you prepare your skin for any changes. The most common causes of dry skin include: 

  • Genetics: Dry skin is a predisposition to reduced sebum production and impaired skin barrier function. If your skin constantly feels tight and dehydrated, regardless of the season or external stressors, all signs point to genetics. 
  • Aging: Moving through new chapters in life is beautiful — and comes with changes, like reduced sebum production and the decline in NMFs. This is due to the loss of skin elasticity and increased vulnerability to external stressors. 
  • Climate: Excessive sun exposure, harsh winds, and low humidity levels lead to moisture loss, dehydration, and a compromised skin barrier. As the skin faces various weather conditions (particularly dry climate), collagen, and elastin fibers can break down via oxidative stress, natural oils may be stripped, and the skin struggles to maintain ideal hydration levels. Climate may also trigger inflammatory responses that can cause flare ups. 
  • Heat/Air Conditioning: While a welcome relief from extreme weather, both heat and AC use are incredibly drying. By circulating air that doesn’t contain humidity, the skin is exposed to an exceptionally dry environment, leading to dehydration. 
  • Health Conditions & Medications: Certain medications (think diuretics, antihistamines, retinoids) disrupt the skin's natural moisture levels as they target different health concerns. 
  • Harsh Skincare Habits: Abrasive exfoliants, over-cleansing, and overuse of active ingredients like retinoids and chemical peels can compromise the skin’s lipid barrier, encouraging transepidermal water loss and natural oil imbalance. 

How do I treat dry skin on face?

As with most skin conditions, we recommend truly understanding your skin type and identifying key stressors. This could look like independent research or a consultation with a dermatologist. Insight into your specific characteristics and triggers can make all the difference for effective, targeted treatment of frustrations like dry skin. 

Naturally, your instinct for combating dry skin may be to moisturize. While this is helpful at a surface level, this approach combined with lifestyle shifts will make all the difference. 

Dry skin saviors include: 

  • Using a humidifier: Creating a more favorable environment for hydration alleviates dry skin by maintaining optimal humidity levels, preventing excessive TEWL, and sustaining skin barrier integrity. 
  • Avoiding hot showers: While they may feel luxurious, showers that are too hot can strip the lipid barrier — a compromised lipid barrier decreases skin hydration and integrity, leaving the skin barrier in a vulnerable position. 
  • Supportive skincare products: Ease the use of retinoids and acids, instead rely on skincare products like a gentle cleanser or a brightening face serum that are pH-balanced (so they don’t strip your skin), are rich in ceramides, and contain deeply hydrating ingredients. 

Now that you’re equipped with tips on how to treat dry skin, maintaining a consistent routine will go a long way to strengthen your skin barrier and lead to a more supple, plump, and soft complexion.

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How Do I Repair a Damaged Skin Barrier?

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