A variety of factors can have a negative impact on healthy skin. Of course, external conditions like harsh winds, extreme temperatures and the sun’s powerful UV rays can bother your skin. But if you are constantly experiencing dryness, irritation, itching, inflammation, or redness, you’re probably wondering what is actually causing the discomfort. It turns out, there are five key causes of dry, irritated skin, and they exist both outside and inside the body.
All of these factors play a role in causing dry, irritated skin. In order to keep your skin looking and feeling its best, and to avoid discomfort and irritation, it’s important to understand each of these five factors and the impacts that they can have on your skin. But first, you need to understand what steps should be taken to alleviate any irritation you may be experiencing and then working to locate the source for your dry skin related issues.
Treating Your Skin's Issues before You the Cause
If you’re experiencing skin discomfort and can’t wait for your appointment with a dermatologist to get relief, there a few things you can do to help relieve your symptoms.
If you’re experiencing inflammation, start by applying a cool compress to your skin. The cold temperature restricts blood flow to the area, helping to provide relief. Creams and lotions, especially formulas containing soothing ingredients like FDA-approved colloidal oatmeal, can effectively alleviate itch and discomfort as you work to identify the source of irritation.
Other ingredients like ceramides help draw moisture back into the skin, and are also great for dry, irritated skin. Look for unscented or fragrance free options to avoid further irritation (shop Curél Fragrance Free Lotion HERE)
But regardless of how you address your immediate irritation, understand that these are temporary solutions. Your skin discomfort is still likely due to one of five factors, and you must learn the source to effectively manage your skin irritation.
Identifying the Source of Irritation
Identifying the source of your skin woes enables you to pursue appropriate treatment to alleviate irritating symptoms and learn how to prevent the problem in the future. First, if you aren’t sure what’s causing your skin issues, it’s important to pay attention to things you come into contact with on a daily basis. Your skin could be reacting to everyday items like certain products, fabrics, or foods. A small journal or even note pad will suffice for record-keeping.
Scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist is a must to truly identify your skin’s triggers, and bring that journal you’ve been keeping, because if the tests find nothing, the journal will become a key piece of evidence.
Exploring the Five Causes of Dry, Irritated Skin
Now that we know how to immediately treat discomfort, and to identify the source, you can pinpoint your skin’s discomfort, stemming from one of these five causes:
When the temperature outside turns extreme it can trigger significant irritation in your skin. In hotter months your skin is at risk of damage from a multitude of stressors that can not only damage the skin, but can also prevent it from adequately repairing itself. If you have sensitive skin, you most likely already have a compromised moisture barrier and even a mild sun burn can be very problematic.
Even after the redness from the burn has gone away, your skin can remain dry and flakey as your damaged moisture barrier struggles to repair itself.
The Summer heat also causes increased perspiration. Perspiration can help collect pollen and other airborne allergens, trapping them on your skin, introducing irritation. But the cold seasons may be even worse on your skin as the cold air’s low humidity levels draw precious moisture from your skin, damaging the upper layers of skin and preventing them from locking that important moisture in.
It’s also important to remember, as a rule of thumb, that as outside temperatures turn extreme, indoor air becomes drier as furnaces and air conditioners work harder to maintain comfortable temperatures but in turn remove even more helpful humidity from the air.
Solution: Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid harsh weather. But, it’s important to maintain temperate conditions for your skin – not too hot, not too cold, with sufficient humidity. To prevent skin sensitivity related to environmental factors, remember to always dress appropriately. In Summer, wear protective clothing or sunscreen when outside to help shield your skin from the damaging sun. To allow perspiration to evaporate, consider clothing that helps perspiration wick away. In the Winter, it is critical to keep skin from being exposed to frigid temperatures that can instantly damage upper layers of skin. Clothing that maintains a barrier and keeps the frigid air out is highly recommended. Lastly try to avoid turning that thermostat too high or too low as this will remove the humidity in the home that can help keep your skin comfortable.
If you experience rashes or dry, irritated skin, you may have a skin allergy. There are many different types of allergens that can cause skin irritation, but some common allergens include pet dander, dust mites, pollen, fragrances, mold, chlorine and even sweat. A skin allergy can present itself in a variety of ways, from rashes and hives to swelling and itching.
Solution: If you’re experiencing a reaction and suspect it might be related to allergies, it’s important to pay close attention to what you’ve eaten and the things that have come into contact with your skin. To treat the irritation, apply a cold compress to help constrict blood flow to the area and reduce swelling. Your body produces histamine during an allergic reaction, which worsens your skin’s reaction and discomfort. This is why it’s also important to consider an allergy medication that contains antihistamines, which help reduce or block histamines, relieving your allergy symptoms.
Your dermatologist will be instrumental in identifying if and which allergens are the cause of your skin irritation. Your doctor may first run test like patch or scratch tests, which are super simple. A patch test involves applying a small patch containing an allergen then applying it to the skin to see if there’s a reaction. A scratch test (also called puncture, prick test) involves just a tiny prick to the skin to see if it reacts when an allergen is applied on top of the scratch. Note that this is not a shot, and it will not cause bleeding.
Finally, there’s an intradermal test, which involves a doctor or nurse injecting the allergen beneath the skin. These tests are critical, because they can either identify, or rule-out, common allergens or irritants, which moves you one step closer to finding relief.
Read more about skin allergens and how to deal with them by clicking here.
The term irritant is important because it differentiates from allergen. An allergen causes a specific, allergic reaction from your body. But an irritant can cause symptoms like redness, itchiness and inflammation, while others can cause stinging or burning sensations. Your body is not producing histamines in response to an irritant. Common household irritants, like certain soaps, cleaners, clothing, fragrances or chemicals, can cause contact-irritant dermatitis.
Solution: This is why your journal is so helpful. If no tests reveal an allergy, then consider things that have come into contact with your skin and caused a negative reaction. Avoid these irritants.
Not all skin issues are related to outside sources. In some cases, your skin sensitivity could be related to genetics. For example, if your parents suffers from sensitive skin, it’s likely that you will, too. People who have sensitive skin are born with more delicate skin with a lower amount of pigment, and tend to be more prone to dryness, blushing, asthma and allergies.
Solution: If you have sensitive skin related to your genetics, it’s crucial to stick to a daily moisturizing routine. Doing so will help alleviate dryness and irritation, and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier.
Certain behaviors, like scratching, picking or showering with hot water, can also lead to skin issues.
It can be tempting to occasionally scratch irritation or a rash. But doing so can cause more injury to your skin, making the skin more inflamed and more difficult for the skin to heal itself. If you’ve noticed you pick your skin frequently, especially in times of stress, your skin-picking could be related to anxiety or nervousness.
In addition to skin picking and scratching, many people prefer to take hot showers, especially in the colder months. But doing so can also cause damage to your skin by weakening the barrier and stripping it of its natural oils. Learn more about the impact of showers or baths on dry skin and our best tips to help HERE.
Solution: If you’re experiencing a rash or other skin condition, try to avoid touching it as this can lead to more irritation and even infection. And when showering, opt for lukewarm water instead of hot water to help protect your skin’s barrier. If your behavioral issues are related to anxiety or nervousness, it’s best to keep track of the situations that lead you to pick or scratch your skin and see a doctor who can help you identify the root cause of your anxiety and find ways to treat it.
Living with sensitive skin can be discouraging, especially if you aren’t sure what’s causing it. But by taking the necessary steps to pinpoint the source of your skin’s sensitivity, you can effectively learn how to avoid or reduce exposure. Learn more about common skin irritants by clicking HERE.