There are many causes of dry skin, ranging from environmental conditions to a bacterial infection to a nutrient deficiency or even an autoimmune disorder.
Unfortunately, conventional medicine often approaches dry skin as a superficial problem and its topical treatments can be accompanied by harsh side effects.
Finding out why your skin is painfully dry is the key to getting permanent relief.
Chronic skin symptoms are a reflection of a deeper problem in the body. The bigger problem must be identified and correctly treated. Once this takes place you can enjoy symptom-free radiant skin while also increasing your overall health.
Let's discuss some causes of chronic dry skin, then explore what you can do in each situation.
COMMON CAUSES OF
Often, dry skin is a matter of the skin's protective layer of oils being stripped away by environmental factors and then being unable to replenish itself enough to regain homeostasis.
HARSH SOAPS, LOTIONS & COSMETICS
Cheap, conventional soaps and cosmetics are hard on your skin. Conventional makeup, soaps, and lotions are usually laden with chemicals that are not safe for human use.
Some of these chemicals are phthalates, parabens, BHT, preservatives, and even fragrance. The cosmetic industry is not regulated like the food industry.
If your dry skin is on your face, consider oil cleansing as a method of makeup removal and face cleansing. Even for acne-prone skin types, this is usually very effective and gentle.
If you do need to cleanse your skin with soap, choose an organic baby soap or one that has the EWG (Environmental Working Group) seal. Lotions with colloidal oatmeal are very gentle and effective at soothing skin.
Do not hesitate to buy your own organic cold pressed oils and butters for additional skin moisture.
By using your own rosehip oil, sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, and beeswax to make your own lotion (or to just use them straight on your body) you control all of the ingredients going on your skin and maximize the healing properties for a fraction of the cost of buying an organic variety in a store.
You can read more about the potential toxins in cosmetics here.
Showering with water that is too hot is an effective way at stripping off the protective layer of oils on your skin, leaving it dry. This effect is particularly noticeable in winter when skin is exposed to cold, dry air.
Shower only with warm water, this will help retain your skins natural oil barriers.
When toweling off, be sure to gently pat off excess moisture, you want your skin to be still a little damp before applying moisturizer.
After applying lotion, you can warm up some raw shea butter (100% shea butter, no additives) in your hands before patting it all over your skin to 'seal in' the moisture barrier.
Shea butter is full of unbelievable skin repairing properties, it is great for scars, preventing stretch marks, and has anti-aging properties. You can even pat a small amount all over your face in cold weather to prevent windburn.
During winter, in dry climates, or at high altitude, the moisture in the air can become very low.
Indoors, you can have plants (the areca palm is particularly effective at increasing humidity, be sure to mist it regularly if your home is dry) or a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air.
Outdoors, layering a good moisturizer under topical creams or butter (like shea or cocoa butter) are needed to prevent recurring dry skin. Always wear gloves during winter.
What you eat has a profound effect on how your body functions. Every day your body uses the nutrients you eat as building blocks to constantly construct new cells and repair old ones.
When you consume a poor diet, you are giving your body bad building blocks to work with and setting yourself up for eventual health problems.
These nutrient deficiencies are frequently linked to chronic dry skin:
Essential Fatty Acids
Vitamin B 12
Taking random vitamins indiscriminately will probably not help much. By using diagnostic testing we can assess your levels of nutrients and if your body is utilizing those nutrients properly.
Everyone's needs are unique, for example, a single gene, MTHFR, can require a person to need a 'broken down' form of folate (methylated folate) otherwise their ability to detoxify and utilize energy will be severely impaired and their risk for disease rises.
Personalized treatment can ensure you are not wasting resources on supplements and treatments you do not need.
Read more about the functional medicine approach to nutrition.
Reaction to Medication or Supplements
Dry skin is a common side effect of many medications including those for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Dry skin can also occur because you have an imbalance in a key nutrient. Omega 3's, for example, need to be balanced with an intake of Omega 6's for them to be utilized properly.
Functional medicine can address the biochemical imbalance that has caused your skin to become excessively dry. Often there are nutritional deficiencies that compound the effects caused by the medications or supplements.
HYPOTHYROIDISM / HASHIMOTO'S THYROIDITIS
Dry skin is a characteristic sign of hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone). Other key signs are:
hair loss, outside third of eyebrow loss
weight gain, low energy, and fatigue
changes in bowel movements - constipation or diarrhea
heart palpitations, easily winded
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (the autoimmune condition that frequently causes hypothyroidism) can both be confirmed with blood tests. Those that have either of these conditions, generally suffer from other symptoms that are not easily fixed by a pill.
The right testing is very important, usually in hypothyroidism TSH is the only thing tested. TSH is simply the brain’s way of communicating with the thyroid, it is not actually measuring the capacity of the thyroid to function. A full thyroid panel is needed to assess thyroid function.
Functional medicine can offer multifaceted treatment to rid you of symptoms and restore your body's health.
Stress, infection, toxicity or autoimmune dysregulation can be major factors in the development of psoriasis.
While immune-suppressing pharmaceuticals are the conventional approach, I have seen a remarkable improvement in patients using nutritional medicines, lifestyle intervention and the application of functional medicine to their unique biochemical needs.
While a scaly rash is the primary sign of psoriasis, a diagnosis should be sought as other conditions, (like atopic dermatitis or eczema) can also be mistaken for psoriasis.
Read more about the functional medicine approach to autoimmune disease here.
These are just two examples of autoimmune conditions that can affect your skin health. In reality, the majority of patients that come to me with autoimmune conditions also have skin-related symptoms like dryness, rashes, and sensitivities.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)
There are often multiple factors involved chronic venous insufficiency. An underlying issue that is common to most patients is a liver problem.
When the liver becomes loaded with years of accumulated toxins from food, water, and the environment, these toxins can impair the liver's ability to efficiently filter blood.
When this occurs, the heart has to pump harder just maintain normal circulation of blood.
After a while, this can cause the venous blood circulation to decrease as a result of this burden. Vein valves can also be faulty or become injured due to circulation abnormalities from an impaired liver.
Impaired venous circulation can indicate impaired nutrient repletion for the affected area. This can affect the skin as a lower amount of blood nutrients, oxygen, and immune cells are delivered to the surface.
CVI may present with a primary symptom of dry skin (most commonly) on the lower legs. Your legs could also feel restless, painful or 'heavy'.
Other symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency include:
Edema (swelling) in the legs
Darkening or thickening of the skin on the legs
Dull ache in the legs
Flaking, Itchy or Dry Skin
Diabetes I and II are fully treatable using functional medicine. Since the liver is the primary organ involved in the health of your skin, its optimal function is very important.
Your liver works in cooperation with your pancreas to regulate your blood sugar to ensure you have sustained fuel throughout the day.
Over time, when your liver becomes burdened through toxin accumulation, pathogen build up, or damaging adrenaline levels that scorch liver tissue - the liver is no longer able to regulate blood sugar and the task of blood sugar stabilization rests solely on your pancreas.
The pancreas cannot sustain stable blood sugar levels for very long if there are unhealthy lifestyle and nutrition habits working against it.
Eventually, pancreatic function will become dysfunctional and diabetes or pre-diabetes can follow soon thereafter.
In order for our organs, tissues, cells, and skin get the nutrients that they need to function - glucose or sugar must be present.
Nutrients need sugar (not processed sugar but sugar from vegetables and fruits) in order to enter inside the cells. The pancreas and liver ensure that your sugar levels are optimal for your body to receive nutrition.
Insulin resistance is the body's first sign of blood sugar problem - this a situation where sugar cannot adequately get inside the cells (this includes the cells of your skin).
Lack of nutrients, blood, and impaired oxygen saturation in the skin are all contributing factors involved in causing dry skin.
Can Functional Medicine Help Dry Skin?
Functional medicine utilizes genetic data, the latest diagnostic testing, nutritional medicines, and lifestyle interventions to target symptoms and optimize your health.
My new patient appointments are at least one hour long. This is so the patient can have time to thoroughly go into their own health history, family history, lab results, health goals, and questions.
Through personalized treatment, you don't have to waste months or years in trial and error periods using supplements or diets that never seem to do anything. Finding the cause of your skin symptoms is the key to getting you feeling better and able to enjoy your life.
You can read more about functional medicine here.