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Digital Subscriptions > Healthy Food Guide > Jan-18 > DRY SKIN secrets

DRY SKIN secrets

Once those harsh winter elements breach our skin’s protective barrier, valuable moisture is lost. Leah Hardy asked top dermatologists to reveal the secrets of keeping skin soft and radiant even when it’s cold out there

Looking good

WHY IS WINTER SO HARD ON OUR SKIN? ‘Wind, cold and dry air and hot showers can all make skin parched’, says consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. ‘I see far more cases of severely dry skin at this time of year, and eczema and skin that’s genetically dry often get worse in winter.’

Signs of dryness include flaking, itching or a tight feeling after showering, and even oily skins can become dehydrated. Anjali, who’s a spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, explains that in normal, healthy skin, 30% of its upper layers, called the stratum corneum, consist of water (in the skin overall, including the deeper layer called the dermis, the proportion is 64%).

‘Technically, we describe skin as dry when the water level in the stratum corneum drops below 10%’, says Anjali. ‘At this point you’ll notice that your skin looks dull and feels dry. It can also be red, flaky, itchy or even cracked.’

A precious barrier

The water within our skin is preserved by a barrier made up of tightly knit, flattened surface cells called corneocytes. When the barrier is intact, these corneocytes fit snugly together, like bricks in a wall, ‘cemented’ by fats, or lipids. Together these protect the skin from the environment and outside irritants, while preserving moisture. But if the skin’s barrier is damaged – due to harsh products, for example – gaps form and water evaporates through them. The resultant dryness damages the barrier even more, creating a vicious circle.

To make matters worse, as we get older, the amount of lipids in our barrier decreases significantly, allowing water to escape through the gaps. This is one reason we’re more prone to dry skin as we age. Treating dry skin involves both protecting skin from the environment and finding the right moisturisers. Here’s what the experts recommend…

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About Healthy Food Guide

Get your healthy new year off to a great start with our nutrition editor's guide to the best kickstart diets, comfort food made healthier, plant-based recipes plus help on cutting down on alcohol and getting more vitamin D. We've also got remedies for dry winter skin and fitness plans for all ages that really work. Everything you need to start the healthier way you mean to go on!