Health Topics

Protecting Your Skin From Dryness

Keeping your skin healthy in the elements can be the easiest first step to protecting your skin. Excessive dryness can damage skin over time, and being out in the sun all afternoon can hurt your appearance. By focusing on these aspects of skin health, you can have a good starting point to looking younger and staying cancer-free.

Dry Skin Care

Dry skin is defined as flaking or scaling when there is no evidence of inflammation of the skin. It is most prominent on the shins, hands and sides of the abdomen, and can be associated with itching. Dry skin is more common during the winter months, when humidity is low, and improves in the summertime. In addition, elderly people tend to have more trouble with dry skin due to the natural changes in skin that occur with age.

Treatment is important because extensively dry skin can lead to dermatitis, or eczema. Dry skin may be prevented or treated by:

  • Taking lukewarm baths or showers.
  • Limiting baths/showers to 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Applying a moisturizer right after drying off from a shower or washing your hands.
  • Using a moisturizing body soap and hand soap.
  • Using heavier creams or ointments during the winter months and lighter lotions in the summer.

If the above regimen does not improve the condition of the dry skin, it is possible that the flaking is a sign of underlying dermatitis (which is also called eczema). There are different types of dermatitis that may cause dry, itchy, flaking skin. They include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis — a red, scaly, mildly itchy rash on the scalp, eyebrows, and sides of the nose in areas that contain many oil glands.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis — a rash that results when the skin comes in contact with a substance that causes an immune reaction, such as poison ivy.
  • Atopic dermatitis — long-lasting type of dermatitis usually starting in childhood, and tends to run in families. It also may cause excessively dry, itchy skin on the face and body.
  • Athlete's foot — dry flaking on the soles of the feet caused by a fungus.

Sun Protection During the Winter

Protecting your skin from the sun in the winter months is important because the sun emits ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Over time, UVR exposure causes many changes in the skin, including wrinkles, discoloration, freckles or age spots, benign growths and pre-cancerous or cancerous areas.

UVR consists of two main subtypes:

  1. UVB
  2. UVA

UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and tanning. UVA rays are believed to be responsible for photoaging — the damage that occurs to the skin from many years of exposure to the sun. Both types have been implicated in promoting cancer. Protecting the skin from excessive sun exposure may decrease vitamin D levels. A higher dose of vitamin D intake may be necessary for individuals with known risk factors for vitamin D insufficiency, such as dark skin, the elderly, photosensitive individuals, obese individuals or those with fat malabsorption.