Breaking the Cycle of Broken Skin
If you’re struggling with severely dry skin, you may think you’ve tried every last treatment. But how, when and which ingredients you moisturize with matter, and you could be contributing to dryness without realizing it. To take control of the seemingly endless cycle, rethink your skin care routine—to one that properly replenishes moisture and repairs dry, cracked skin with therapeutic formulas.
When your skin is extremely dry, it’s uncomfortable. It might be itchy. It can become stiff, swollen and painful to move. And then it can crack. Scaly, cracked skin can be embarrassing when visible and frustrating to treat. Depending on where on the body the symptoms occur, cracked skin can interfere with daily life. Cracks can also pose a health risk. When your skin is so dry it swells and splits, you have open wounds that expose the body’s largest organ to the elements as well as dirt and debris. It’s important to manage and heal inflamed, broken skin because it provides an entry point for harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi or allergens and can leave you vulnerable to infection or allergic reaction.
Identify what’s triggering your extremely dry, cracked skin. You can do this on your own or with the help of a dermatologist. Some common causes include environmental factors or topical irritants that you expose your skin to over and over, but contact with food allergens and diagnosable skin conditions could also be the culprit if your symptoms are ongoing.
Pay attention to when your skin cracks. Drying, irritating and harsh agents can lead to chapping and cracking, so take note when you introduce a new skin care product or expose skin for long periods of time to water, soaps or detergents. The type of work you do can also induce dry skin or allergic reactions that lead to cracking, as with many health care or service industry professionals. Sweating and exposure to hot water or harsh skin irritants can make dry skin worse and create conditions for chapped, cracked skin.
Dry skin is common in the United States, and can be triggered by a variety of factors. Find out if one or more of these triggers are causing your symptoms.
Dry climates, low humidity and temperature changes can worsen symptoms of dry skin and eczema.
Work conditions can cause dry, cracked skin in workers who wash their hands often, use latex gloves or handle toxic chemicals, hazardous materials or cleaning agents.
Exercise, physical activity and high temperatures trigger sweating and the loss of natural oils.
Repeated exposure to contact irritants like skin care products and harsh agents can lead to dermatitis.
Cleansers, detergents, harsh application or scrubbing and overexposure to water all strip your skin of oil.
Cosmetics, topical medications, sunscreen and perfumes can contain drying alcohols, fragrances and preservatives that you could develop an allergy to after one or more exposures.
Jewelry made with nickel or gold can cause allergic contact dermatitis with symptoms of dryness, redness and pain.
Skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis cause dry, itchy skin that scales, flakes, cracks and bleeds.
Hereditary conditions like allergies and eczema make some people more prone to dry skin.
People ages 40 and up experience increased dryness and thinning skin due to natural hormone changes.
Diet can greatly affect the skin in people who develop food allergies.
Bathing and skin care routines that are irregular or lack proper moisturizing techniques can cause dry skin.
Sporadic application of a moisturizer, missing one or treating only when you have symptoms allows skin to dry out.
Stress, smoking and sun exposure can all cause dry skin.
Topically, there are many dry skin treatments available, but the right moisturizer is a preventative first step. Rely on formulas that leave a thick, protective layer like ointments, balms and creams. Some emollients contain petrolatum, oats, oils or vitamin E—ingredients that help heal or protect against moisture loss and cracked skin.
When skin isn’t well-moisturized, it can become tight and swollen (not to mention painful) enough to crack and even bleed. If your skin splits open, you want to seal the crack to help keep germs out and heal more quickly. For quick first aid, stop the bleeding, clean with lukewarm water to prevent infection and seal the crack. Some common sealing methods are liquid bandages, adhesive bandages or medical tape and emollients like petroleum that create a skin barrier. If you experience swelling, calm it with hydrocortisone.
Treating dry, cracked skin? Different formulas have different benefits. Know which one to choose as well as why and when to use it.
The thickest, longest-lasting formula, an ointment is a topical moisturizer prepared in an oil base like petrolatum or lanolin.
This skin ointment or inhalant is infused with medicine derived from an aromatic or herb.
A deep treatment for severely dry or cracked skin, masks are socks or gloves infused with moisturizers for maximum absorption.
Once your cracks heal, commit to keeping skin soft and moisturized. If it dries out, you’re more prone to itching, scratching and another cycle of cracking and bleeding. Take lukewarm baths and add colloidal oatmeal or oils. As a crucial step, moisturize immediately after bathing.
Take measures to protect your skin in the environment you live and work in. Wear gloves and protective clothing in cold weather. Avoid over-washing hands or wear gloves when working with water, detergents, chemicals and other irritating agents. Don’t overheat your home in winter or blast air conditioning in summer. If you’re going to be losing sweat during physical activity, plan your shower for afterwards so you’re bathing no more than once a day—but do moisturize twice a day. Overnight treatments like hand and feet masks are an excellent way to lock in moisture while you sleep.
What It Is: This skin soother is a calming, moisturizing oat therapy that binds to the skin to help ease inflammation, dryness, itchiness and oozing.
Why You Want It: When added to a bath or skin moisturizer, colloidal oatmeal can help reduce moisture loss by leaving a protective film on the skin.
What It Is: This thick emollient treats and protects dry, broken skin by forming a long-lasting barrier that locks in moisture.
Why You Want It: Petrolatum leaves skin smooth and soft, and it lasts. In addition to sealing wounds to keep germs out, it has been shown to have soothing properties.
With a revised daily care routine, cracked-skin sufferers can find relief. Catch common mistakes and adapt techniques for cleansing, moisturizing and healing extreme dry, cracked skin.