6 Surprising Causes of Dry & Scaly Skin

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Dry skin is skin that feels uncomfortable and is prone to scaling, itching, or cracking. This health complaint isn’t unique and, in fact, can happen to anyone. It occurs when your skin is unable to keep moisture, causing it to be dehydrated. As a result, the protective epidermal barrier weakens and makes skin vulnerable to attacks from all sorts of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. 

Unexpected Causes of Skin Dehydration

Dry skin, being a common skin condition, also has a lot of common causes. Some of the usual ones include bathing in extreme temperatures, over-washing (typically the face and the hands), using too much perfume or alcohol on the skin, frequent exposure to chlorine (in pools), harsh ingredients in personal care products, and of course, aging.

But did you know that you can also get dry skin in unexpected ways?

Here are several surprising causes of dry, scaly skin to watch out for.

1. Cigarette Smoke

Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes can cause various diseases, such as lung cancer, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions. But non-smokers aren’t spared either! Even If you don’t smoke, you can suffer the consequences of inhaling secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke contains hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and other poisonous gases and chemicals. In addition to its potentially devastating effects on the heart and lungs, these chemical agents can harm the skin, causing skin irritation. For instance, hydrogen cyanide is a cellular asphyxiant. This means it prevents the skin from breathing in the oxygen needed for self-repair and regeneration. The result is old and dehydrated skin. 

Thus, it’s essential to protect yourself and your skin from secondhand smoke as often as possible.

2. Wool

Since wool is a natural fabric, you’ll likely see it as skin-friendly. But unfortunately, wool can irritate the skin, triggering dryness and other skin problems. One possible reason for this is that wool is primarily made of keratin. (Yes, the same keratin that the health and beauty industry manufacturers infuse their products with!)

However, even if keratin is one of the building blocks of human skin, the molecule itself may cause or worsen eczema or eczema-like conditions, such as keratosis pilaris. One symptom of this skin disorder is dry, rough skin.

To avoid unwanted skin reactions, choose natural fabrics other than wool, such as organic cotton, silk, linen, or cashmere. If you must use wool, get merino wool, which is non-irritating.

3. Hot Showers

Another prevalent cause of dry skin is hot showers. Because we enjoy indulging in hot showers, it’s easy to overlook the obvious—their dehydrating effect on our skin and scalp. The high temperature strips the skin of its sebum, which coats and moisturizes our biggest protective organ. 

Because the skin’s protective barrier is impaired, it is less able to hold moisture in and keep bacteria and other harmful microbes out. As a result, it now becomes susceptible to dehydration and diseases. 

Avoid wrecking your skin by taking lukewarm showers instead. Further, shield your skin from drying out by using only gentle cleansers. 

4. Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that can also cause skin dehydration. If you’ve heard about it for the first time, you may be astonished that it is very common. 

Lichen planus happens when something goes wrong with your immune system, making it attack your cells, including your skin. As a result, you develop red-purple bumps on your skin that are scaly and rough. Although the origins of lichen planus are not yet entirely clear, the disorder is associated with underlying conditions such as hepatitis. It also typically affects middle-aged women. 

If you see rashes or bumps on your skin without any apparent triggers, see your doctor for the proper diagnosis and treatment.

5. Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis is another skin problem that isn’t just one but a group of diseases that can lead to dry and itchy skin. Unlike lichen planus, it usually occurs in younger individuals aged five or younger. Other symptoms include pain and uncommon sensitivity to infrared radiation or direct heat. 

The rare disease makes skin cells thicken and appear like fish scales and is usually genetic. But it is also linked to certain medications, diseases like kidney failure and some cancers, and also HIV, which also makes it an acquired condition.

Because ichthyosis still has no known cure, the focus is more on disease management. For example, your doctor may prescribe vitamin A to promote natural moisturizing and antibiotics to treat skin infections. They may also recommend emollients to hydrate your skin while sleeping and as you go about your daily routine.

6. Dermatomyositis

Yet another uncommon inflammatory skin disorder is dermatomyositis, which also makes the skin dry. But unlike the earlier-mentioned disease, this disorder also causes progressive muscle enfeeblement. You may experience this in areas near or around your torso, such as your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. Like lichen planus, typical symptoms of dermatomyositis are violet-colored or red rashes that can also be itchy and painful. Associated conditions are connective tissue diseases, lung and heart diseases, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and cancer.

There is also no specific cure for dermatomyositis, but skin rashes and muscle weakening symptoms can be treated and may improve over time.

The Causes Of Dry Skin & How To Overcome Them

Your skin is one of your body’s main defenses against diseases. By learning about these surprising causes of dry skin, you won’t be caught off guard anymore when you experience any of their symptoms. It’s easy to make the necessary precautions for the more common reasons of secondhand smoke, wearing woolen fabrics, and taking hot showers. But of course, for the rare conditions of lichen planus, ichthyosis, and dermatomyositis, it’s best to work with your doctor for the best skincare and treatments.

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Katie Pierce is a teacher-slash-writer who loves telling stories to an audience, whether it’s bored adults in front of a computer screen or a bunch of hyperactive 4-year-olds. Writing keeps her sane (most of the time) and allows her to enjoy some quiet time in the evening before she walks into a room of screaming kids (all of whom she loves dearly) the next morning.