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Dry Skin, Decoded

Get to the bottom of your dry skin, and learn how to treat it.

Dry skin feels tight, itchy and parched. It also tends to flake, have rough or reddish patches and makeup doesn’t go on smoothly. It can look thin or dull, have fine, crepe-y lines and act sensitive.

But there’s some justice: People with dry skin also tend to have small pores, rarely break out and don’t have to worry about looking shiny in photos.

GALLERY: Skincare Products for Dry Skin

The science: Sebum and sweat create your skin’s natural moisturizer, an acidic mix of lipids and waxes that protects the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of your skin. The stratum corneum is made up of dead skin cells that lay flat like shingles on a roof and holds water in the skin.

When the acid mantle on top of the skin is stripped (often from harsh cleansers or extreme heat or cold), the stratum corneum is damaged and moisture escapes, leading to dry, damaged skin.

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Dry Skin, Decoded

Causes: Hormones play a role, since they determine the amount of sebum your skin produces, which is also why skin tends to get dryer after menopause, explains New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. Flaking can also be a sign of an underactive thyroid.

According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, CEO of the Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute in Miami, and author of "The Skin Type Solution," the most likely cause is a damaged protective barrier, often from cold, dry winter air, wind, harsh cleansers and toners. And while drinking tons of water won’t directly moisturize your skin, your skin can’t function at its best if you’re dehydrated, so fill up on hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables.

WATCH VIDEO: A Review of Dry Skin and How to Treat It

Tips for dry skin:

  • Wash your face with cold water and use a mild, soap-free (non-sudsing) cleanser or cleansing oil specifically designed for dry skin.
  • Remove makeup and wash your face every night. That way, you wake up with a clean face and can skip cleanser in the morning.
  • Apply moisturizer when skin is still slightly damp—it helps seal in hydration and allows your moisturizer to penetrate fully.
  • Use face oils and creams, which are richer than lotions.
  • Sleep with a humidifier in your room at night—dry air can suck moisture from your skin.
  • Eat plenty of hydrating foods (vegetables and fruit) and add an omega-3 supplement to your diet, which can help repair your skin’s lipid barrier. How much water does your body really need? Find out here.

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