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What causes dry skin?

Women applying skin cream to her hands
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Dry skin is common and can happen to anyone. If your skin feels tight, itchy, rough, and looks dull – it could be due to dry skin. Find out about some of the most common factors in causing dry skin, and what you can do to treat it.


Dry skin can happen at any age, but the likelihood increases as you get older. This is because your skin produces less of the oil (sebum) that lubricates the skin as we age. It’s a natural process, but if you’re worried about dry skin, there are products available to help.


Hormones play a vital role in skin health. This is especially true for women entering menopause. Women may find that the decreasing oestrogen levels result in skin dryness. Menopause can accelerate the decline in collagen production – the substance that helps skin feeling supple and elastic. The decrease in hormone levels can leave skin feeling thinner, and less able to retain moisture.

Skin conditions (e.g. eczema, dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. Characterised by itchy and sometimes flaky skin, this condition can cause dryness. It usually flares up after contact with a ‘trigger’ or skin irritant. This could be an allergen such as dust or pets, or an ingredient in your soap or laundry detergent.

Environmental conditions

The conditions you’re in can affect your skin! This can mean that changes in the weather, or circumstances (especially moving into colder, rainier months) can dry out your skin. Extreme changes in temperature – for example, going from cold, outdoor weather, to central heating or fireplaces indoors can make this worse. Long, hot baths, or a lot of time in water can exacerbate dry skin too, so make sure you take extra care of your skin in the winter!

Other considerations in your environment include any chemicals you may be coming into contact with. Certain types of professions can have exposure to chemicals and skin irritants. Activities such as swimming in cold, or chlorinated water may be drying out your skin.

Symptoms of dry skin

Dry skin can appear anywhere on the body, but commonly occurs on the face and hands. Our hands get used a lot and are subject to harsh soaps and anti-bacterial products. Our faces are sensitive, and the skin is more vulnerable there. In colder months, the face and hands also get more exposure to the elements. Look out for:

  • Changes to skin texture – skin may feel rougher or scaly
  • Peeling
  • Flaking
  • Itching
  • Inflamed or red skin
  • Cracked or even bleeding skin

Types of dry skin

Typically dry skin is temporary, and easy to manage with a little care. However, there are some conditions that can lead to dry skin such as eczema, contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis. Some chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis can create rough and reddened patches that are dry or become irritated.

Treatments for dry skin

Treating dry skin depends on the cause. It can be environmental triggers, chemical exposure or part of the natural ageing process. It is usually easy to treat and manage with topical emollients to hydrate the skin. Treatments include:


Emollients are key for adding moisture to dehydrated and dry skin. Emollients can soothe itching, alleviate dryness and make the skin feel more supple. Different emollients can often be used for the face and body, as facial skin is often more delicate and the skin’s requirements differ. Check with your pharmacist to see which products best suit your needs.

Coconut oil

Studies have shown that the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties in coconut oil can stop skin dryness.


Sun protection is vital for skin health, but especially if the skin is dry or compromised. Dry skin cannot function as well as healthy skin, leaving it more prone to sun damage.

How to prevent dry skin

There are several lifestyle changes you can make which can help reduce the chances of developing dry skin. These include:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Spending less time in low humidity environments
  • Taking shorter baths or showers
  • Using alternatives to harsh soaps
  • Avoiding bubble baths

Should I see a doctor about dry skin?

Dry skin is not usually serious and can be treated with a bit of at-home care. However, if your skin is extremely dry and/or is not responding to treatment, then seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor as stronger creams are available on prescription. If your dry skin is cracked and you suspect infection, see a doctor. Dry skin that is spreading may need a more intensive treatment from a doctor or dermatologist or may be a symptom of another skin condition such as psoriasis.

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Dry skin is common and happens to most of us from time to time. So, finding ways to give your skin a little extra TLC whenever you need it is always a good idea. We have a range of products to combat conditions such as dryness, reddened, rosacea-prone skin or eczema.

For healthy, hydrated skin from head to toe, check out our top tips on skin health – from preventing dry lips, right down to looking after your feet.

Shop treatments for dry skin