Colin Solves Your Problems 25 – Dry Cracked Skin

Dry Cracked Skin
Hot dry conditions don’t only crack soil.

A plaintive e-mail from Talia.

Do you have any advice on what can be done for healing peeling skin on the face more quickly? I live in a very dry climate and lately my mouth and cheeks have been cracking and peeling from the dryness. (I might add that I’m also on some very drying prescription acne meds that probably are worsening things — though what happens to my face if I stop using those is no better.) I stay pretty hydrated beveragewise and don’t think there’s much more liquid I can force down… is there something that fixes this? (Like, some anti-cracking cream or a behavior/home remedy that eases the cracks?) Some understanding of the science of cracked skin that can be put to use? Anything?

Dry cracked skin is a tough problem Talia, and a fairly common one sadly.  The science of cracked skin is not too difficult.  Normal healthy skin is a good barrier to water loss.  Some water is lost, but it is quickly made up for by water coming from inside your body.

Once this goes out of balance your skin gets into all kinds of problems, one of which is that it dries up and shrinks slightly leading to cracks.  This can happen for all kinds of reasons.  One that I suffer from sometimes is over doing products that are rich in detergents.  The obvious ones are shampoo and facial cleansers, but some skin creams that haven’t been formulated thoughtfully can have a similar effect.  But it is worth remembering that soap is also very drying.

Hot dry air is another stresser, especially if it is also windy.  Bright sunlight won’t help either.

You mention being on medication for acne.  Isotretinoin, trade name is usually Roaccutane, has a very drying effect indeed and will definitely make things worse, even if it has very good effects against acne.

My advice would be to avoid all the things that make your skin dry as much as you are able to. Drink plenty of water – this should increase the rate of water loss across your skin.  Look for skin creams that are good barriers.  These should have plenty of oil in them.   There are lots out there.  E45 is one that is good.  Ponds Cocoa Butter cream is another.  Oilatum Cream is worth trying.   I personally use lanolin mixed with a bit of olive oil, or coconut oil when I have dry skin I really want to shift.  You may not be able to get hold of lanolin where you are,  but if you can it can work miracles on dry skin.  You can buy it it in pharmacies in some countries and it is quite cheap and goes a very long way.  Failing that, look for products with lanolin high up in the ingredient list.

I hope this helps, and good luck.

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(If you have any tips for dealing with dry cracked skin, I’d love to hear them.)

8 thoughts on “Colin Solves Your Problems 25 – Dry Cracked Skin”

  1. Using your moisturizer of choice just out of the shower or bath, while your skin is still damp is best. It helps to prevent TEWL – trans-epidermal water loss. My husband, who happens to be a dermatologist, always recommends using just plain petroleum jelly or mineral oil. It doesn’t take much when you use it on damp skin and you won’t feel greasy – if you do, you’re using too much.

  2. @Phaedra – good point I should have mentioned petroleum jelly (=Vaseline=petrolatum=mineral oil). I don’t like it myself but it certainly works and lots of people get great results with it.

    @Lise It is a shame so many people with sensitive skin avoid lanolin. I think it would help a lot of them.

  3. Petroleum jelly is cheaper and you get the desired results. There is no point in spending too much on stuffs that make tall claims and deliver unsatisfactory results.

  4. Jess Yestramski

    Keep the skin moist (called lubricating or moisturizing the skin). Use ointments (such as petroleum jelly), creams, or lotions 2 – 3 times a day. Moisturizers should not contain alcohol, scents, dyes, or other chemicals. Using a humidifier in your home will also help. Moisturizers and emollients work best when they’re applied to skin that is wet or damp. After washing or bathing, pat the skin dry and then apply the moisturizer right away.*;…

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  5. Late to this particular party, I know, but one thing that has helped my cracked and dry skin is a glycerin/rosewater toner. (Tonic? Splash? Not quite sure what to call it.) I put two or three tablespoons of glycerin into a 12 ounce bottle of rosewater, shake it well, and apply it to my face/hands/legs/whatever body part is screaming with dryness and itchiness with a cotton pad or cotton ball.

    I store it in the fridge (mainly because I’m paranoid about bacterial growth), I will add more glycerin to the bottle if it is particularly cold that week, and I will rub in any lingering dampness if the cotton ball left a lot of excess. This trick has done wonders for my skin.

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