3 Common Bad Habits that Are Drying Out Your Skin
Nothing is more irritating than dry and itchy skin, and there is no worse time of year for it than the middle of winter. The air is cold and dry while furnaces blast hot, dry and dusty air at us all day. However, if you've been putting up with dry skin for as long as you can remember then it probably isn't just because of the winter or the condition of the air. You're probably also guilty of one or more bad habits that dries out your skin or just makes it worse. Make sure you avoid these three bad skincare habits.
Washing yourself too hot, too long, too often
When it comes to washing yourself, there are many ways that you can cause your skin to get very dry. Whether it's washing yourself with showers, baths, or even just washing your hands or your face, it's bad for your skin if you:
- Wash yourself too often
- Use water that's too hot
- Aggravate your skin for too long
All three of these must be avoided, and for the exact same reason. The outer layer of your skin is called the epidermis, and mostly consists of keratin skin cells. Keratin is also found in your hair and nails, and the reason your surface layer of skin has so much of it is to provide protection from the layers of skin beneath the epidermis. In order to maintain its protective layer, the keratin skin cells produces oils that help it stay moisturized. Together, the oils and keratin cells form an extra protective layer over the epidermis called your stratum corneum.
So what happens when you take frequent, hot, or long showers is that you are weakening the keratinocytes (keratin cells) by washing away the oils that keep them moisturized. Without the oils, the keratin cells dry out and start breaking up. Hot water weakens the skin cells, and the long and frequent washing constantly removes the oil, especially if you are also using soap. If you wash yourself too frequently or for too long, you're not letting the oils build up and maintain the protection of your outer skin.
If you want to get into a good, healthy habit for washing yourself, you should follow recommended guidelines by skin care specialists and dermatologists. First, according to a study done by the University of Iowa, you should keep your showers to a maximum of 10 minutes within a 24 hour period, and set the water temperature so it is comfortably warm and not hot. It is also advisable to avoid baths, as they the constant submersion underwater exacerbates the effect. If you shower everyday, you should only use soap on the most necessary parts of your body such as your armpits and genitals.
Using products that are harsh on your skin
You should also avoid using soaps and other skin products too often, especially harsher ones. Traditional soaps, lotions, gels, cleansers contain ingredients that cause or worsen dry skin. Specifically, you should check the ingredients of all your products and ditch anything that contains the following:
- Most acids
There are other types of ingredients that can be good for treating other skin problems, but also exacerbate dry skin. Retinoids and Benzoyl Peroxide are two common examples. You don't have to avoid them altogether, but be careful with products that use them, especially if your skin is already dry. What these ingredients do is strip away the keratin skin cells and their moisturizing oils far too aggressively, which causes your skin to dry out and feel itchy. You should also absolutely avoid products with microbeads and other exfoliates that are extremely coarse when used to clean skin.
What you want are products that will moisturize your skin. To that end, you should look for products that contain things like natural oils and hyaluronic acid. Oil-based products tend to feel more greasy, but are more effective at remaining on your skin — it's what your body uses as its own natural protective layer after all. Hyaluronic acid, meanwhile, is produced naturally by your body, mostly in your eyes and joints. It is also used to treat wounds, burns, and other skin-related ailments to stimulate healing and moisturizing.
Misusing moisturizing products
A mistake a lot of people make while trying to fix dry skin is just applying moisturizers and calling it a day. This is because of a misconception of how moisturizers actually work — they do not actually provide the hydration for your skin, or cure dry skin by itself. Instead, what moisturizers do is help seal in the moisture and hydration of your skin. So if your skin is already dry, all the moisturizer does is seal in the dryness. To use moisturizers effectively, you need to use the right kinds with the right ingredients, and do everything else properly before applying it to your skin.
When you take a bath or a shower, make sure you follow the directions from that section above and products with harsh ingredients. The water and proper products will help rehydrate your skin. Then, when you finish the bath or shower, do not aggressively dry yourself by rubbing and dragging your towel over your skin. Instead, just lightly pat your skin with the towel to remove most surface water. Now comes the moisturizer — you should apply it to your skin within three minutes of getting out to help seal in the hydration. The longer you wait, the less effective the moisturizer will be.
When you are doing a simply cleansing of your face or your skin outside of baths or showers, you should follow a similar pattern. Use the right products with the right ingredients that will hydrate your skin rather than drying it out, and avoid cleansing too often. When you are done your routine, pat yourself dry with a towel or cloth. When applying moisturizer after your cleansing routine, you should do it within one minute or three as cleansings do not usually hydrate your skin as much.
About the Author
Born and raised in Ottawa Ontario, Dr Crippen has attended three Canadian Universities and obtained four educational titles including his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). After receiving his M.D. from the University of Western Ontario in 2001, Dr. Crippen then completed his specialty training at the University of Manitoba over the next two years. He has worked extensively in public and private medicine since 2003, but in response to rising demand, Dr Crippen has devoted his practice exclusively to both medical & cosmetic skin care procedures/treatments at DermMedica.
A Fellow of the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery, and a diplomate of the American Board of Laser Surgery in Cosmetic Procedures, Dr. Crippen has trained with physicians who are at the forefront of laser & aesthetic medicine. He has made many educational visits to medical laser clinics throughout North America and Europe.