Dry skin

  • 24 Jul 2014
  • Reading time 5 mins
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Stay hydrated

An adequate fluid intake is the first step to improving dry skin, helping cells to stay plumped up and healthy by drawing water out of the bloodstream. Drinking frequently throughout the day will ensure that you don’t become thirsty and dehydrated.

If you struggle to do this, try drinking at specific times instead. For example, drink a glass of water first thing in the morning, one 30 minutes after lunch, one when you get home from work, another after dinner and a small glass before you go to bed – that’s already five glasses with hardly any effort. Caffeinated drinks are not ideal, because they act as diuretics, causing you to pee more. The long-term use of diuretic medicine, used to lower blood pressure, also has the same effect and may contribute to dull, scaly, flaky and dry skin. Naturally caffeine- free herbal teas are a better option. Rooibos (red bush) tea contains no caffeine and has a similar taste to black tea; it can be taken with milk or lemon.

Encourage sebum production

The amount of natural oils produced by the body is the second factor in dry skin. Normally, the sebaceous glands, which are present in the deeper layers of the skin, produce sebum to lubricate the skin surface and form a barrier preventing the evaporation of moisture from the top layers of the skin. Sebum is comprised of an oily mixture of fats and triglycerides, and unique substances, such as squalene and a small amount of cholesterol. It is particularly important to avoid using harsh cleansers on the skin because they will strip the sebum from the skin leaving it feeling ‘squeaky clean’ but dry.

When the skin does not produce enough sebum, it becomes underprotected and susceptible to dryness. This condition is more typically seen in young skin. Mature skin that becomes dry, on the other hand, tends to lack both oil and water. Sebum secretion is primarily under the control of androgens, a type of sex hormone, but it has also been shown that calorie-restricted diets can decrease the sebum secretion rate, so it is wise to avoid these. Hormonal deficiency, for example during the menopause can also contribute to dry skin. Conversely, eating fats, especially processed or burnt ‘trans’ saturated fats and carbohydrates has been shown to increase production. The best carbohydrates to eat are whole-grain and unprocessed foods such as brown rice, brown pasta and pulses. These low-GL options naturally balance your blood sugar levels, thereby reducing stress hormone release which promotes sebum, bringing the added benefit of reducing the inflammatory processes that underlie chronic dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Eat cold-water fish such as sardines and mackerel, as well as flax or chia seeds and their cold-pressed oils to help provide the omega-3 essential fats, linoleic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Some supplements also provide evening primrose or borage oil for the most beneficial omega-6 fat gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). As well as reducing inflammatory processes, these essential fats provide the necessary raw materials for sebum production, helping to form part of the skin’s protective fatty layer, and they are also incorporated into the membranes of skin cells making them more fluid and flexible, thereby helping the skin to retain moisture. Meat and cheese are high in saturated fats, which are more rigid and inflexible, and therefore less useful as components to build cell membranes. Similarly, fats used for frying foods become damaged and are also poor for cell membrane repair.

Moisturise and protect cells with antioxidants

Antioxidants provide the greatest skin-nurturing effects when taken as a complex. They minimise free-radical damage in both the lipid- and water-based compartments of skin cells and help to recycle each other, prolonging their antioxidant capabilities.

Vitamin E is one of the most well-known skin nutrients, offering both moisturising and protective actions. As a fat-soluble antioxidant, it migrates to the fatty subcutaneous skin layer where it defends cells from oxidative damage. Avocado, almonds, walnuts, olives and wheatgerm are all excellent food sources of vitamin E, and you could also add their cold-pressed oils to your diet.

Vitamin A, beta-carotene and the carotenoids – abundant in carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes and broccoli – are other fat soluble antioxidants that help to keep the skin cells moisturised. Without them, the skin becomes rough and dry. This is because vitamin A regulates the rate of skin-cell replication and the process of keratinisation. As the skin cells migrate from deeper layers towards the surface, they become harder, flatter and filled with keratin, eventually settling into a regular-shaped, tight-fitting, overlapping configuration, much like the tiles on a roof. This cellular arrangement ensures that moisture remains locked in. It is worth both supplementing vitamin A and using a skin cream that contains it; however, products vary considerably in the amount of vitamin A used, and manufacturers don’t have to declare it on the label, so it’s important to choose the best skin-care products.

Some skin creams also include vitamin C and vitamin E, other important skin-friendly antioxidants. Vitamin C helps improve circulation and the transport of nutrients and waste to and from the skin’s cells. Vitamin C is also essential for the synthesis of collagen, the main structural protein in the skin. It is good to eat plenty of vitamin C-rich foods (fruits and vegetables) and to ensure a minimum intake by including a daily 1,000mg supplement.

Take vitamin B complex for total skin support

Deficiencies in a single B vitamin can have negative effects on the skin; for example, being low in vitamin B2 can result in dull skin and dry patches. As a group, the B vitamins support skin health in a variety of ways: encouraging circulation to the outer layers ......

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