What causes dry skin?

Seasonal shifts in temperature, stress and travelling are just a few of the factors that can cause dry skin. Here's how to tell if your skin's in need of a little TLC.

Key takeaways: 

  • Dry skin can affect anyone and happens when there’s dehydration in the layers of skin
  • When the temperature and humidity drops in the colder months, even those who don’t normally suffer dry skin can experience it
  • A tell-tale sign is skin that feels tight and dry to touch, often with a rougher texture, and sometimes flaking or cracks
  • It can generally be treated by adjusting your skin routine and avoiding aggravating factors

What are symptoms of dry skin?

Dryness is signalled by the visible appearance of flaky or scaly skin, but before it is visible, you’ll probably feel a rougher texture that is less flexible than normal. It’s important to note that more severe cases of itchy or broken skin should be treated by your doctor.

Ok so what causes dry skin?

Your skin is a balance of lipids (aka oils) and water; dry skin occurs when there is a lack of both these elements. The water is what hydrates in the deeper layers of skin, while the oil helps you retain that moisture by acting as a seal on the upper layers. Dryness does not discriminate and most people experience dry skin patches at one point or another. It can be brought on by various factors, including:

  • Seasonal shifts in temperature or humidity
  • Inappropriate skincare
  • Hormonal changes
  • Traveling
  • Stress

This is a just a shortlist, but there could be many other causes. Dry skin can be triggered by anything that alters or weakens the balance of your epidermal wall. In fact, as we age our skin loses its natural moisturising factors. This reflects the importance of adjusting your skincare over time. If you tend to have dry skin, there are ways to avoid aggravating factors and prevent its dreaded appearance.

3 things to avoid if you have dry skin:

  1. Frequent or overly hot showers – hot water washes away oils that protect the skin’s balance
  2. Excessive air conditioning or heating – both of these decrease humidity, but can be counteracted with a humidifier
  3. Harsh soaps and chemicals in skincare – drying cleansers, alcohols or abrasive exfoliators strip the skin of natural oils

How to treat dry skin

So when you’re thirsty, you drink water and when something is dry, it makes sense to add water. This isn’t the case with skin. The reality is that the lack of lipids will limit your skin’s ability to retain water. As a result, any water-based moisture would just evaporate without also adding the right blend of oils to go with it.

There are 3 key types of moisturising components in skincare formulations that can be used in combination or singularly:

Type What is it? Best for
  • Counteracts dryness by attracting water to the skin’s surface
  • Usually has a viscous texture and can feel sticky on application
  • Includes amino acids, aloe vera, ceramides, AHAs, glycerin, hyaluronic acid
  • Attracting and bringing water back into skin
  • Using alongside an emollient or occlusive to retain water within skin
  • Spreads across skin to fill in spaces between skin flakes and create a smooth surface
  • Restores the skin’s natural lipid barrier
  • Includes butters, lipids, oils and fatty acids, colloidal oatmeal
  • Softening and nourishing skin
  • Reducing itchiness
  • Retaining moisture as lipid barrier
  • Serves as a physical barrier to prevent water loss and reduce irritation from external factors
  • Tends to feel thicker on skin
  • Includes waxes, lanolin, petroleum, mineral oil
  • Restoring severely dry skin and dehydrated patches to healthy state


Dry skin saviours can span your whole routine

Dehydrated skin can be brought back to a happy balance by:

  • Tweaking your skincare routine with gentle cleansers that avoid stripping the skin of natural oils
  • Incorporating treatments and serums alongside your moisturiser
  • Consider using a thicker overnight cream for extra replenishment

More importantly, it’s key to find the right moisturising formula for you. Now you’ve got the lowdown, let us guide you on the skin routine that works for you here!

  1. Pons-Guiraud A. “Dry skin in dermatology: a complex physiopathology”. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2007 Sep;21 Suppl 2:1-4. PMID: 17716284
  2. Siddappa K. “Dry skin conditions, eczema and emollients in their management”. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2003 Mar-Apr;69(2):69-75. PMID: 17642836
  3. Verdier-Sévrain S, Bonté F. “Skin hydration: a review on its molecular mechanisms”. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Jun;6(2):75-82.
  4. British Association of Dermatologists. "Atopic-eczema". http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/patient-information-leaflets/atopic-eczema
  5. Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1997. Updated January 2015. New Zealand Dermatological Society. "Dry skin". https://dermnetnz.org/topics/dry-skin/
  6. American Academy of Dermatology. "Dry skin: Tips for managing". https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/dry-skin-self-care

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