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What Causes Dry Skin?

What Causes Dry Skin?

Are you concerned about your dry skin?

Do you suffer from dull, flaky patches and occasional inflammation?

Here at NC, we find that many skincare companies are quick to dismiss dry skin.

Their blanket marketing approach is always the same: slap on an emollient-rich moisturiser with occlusive goodies, and you will eliminate your dry skin woes forever.

If only life were as simple as smearing on a moisturiser and you’re good to go! Those of you who suffer from dry skin would appreciate that it is so much more complex than that.

Keep on scrolling for the truth and nothing but the truth, about what it means to have dry skin.

How to diagnose dry skin

True dry skin does not produce any oil or sebum, it is characteristic of small pores, as there is no oil to enlarge the follicles or breed bacteria, so, fortunately, you won’t be breaking out any time soon.

Phew, so blemish-free skin and small pores are not so bad? Maybe not – but keep on reading.

Our skin relies on oil to hold moisture; without it, the complexion can appear rough, patchy, and flaky, fine lines can also appear more pronounced.

Dry skin lacks water which damages your moisture barrier; tiny, invisible cracks can develop, inflame the skin, sensitising it, and making it drier.

This is a sign your barrier function is out of whack, and important ingredients have become depleted, usually through ageing, harsh products, or trauma.

This causes nerve endings to become exposed, and surface cells to dry out, insufficient lipids between the epidermal cells allow ingredients to penetrate, causing inflammation in the skin’s tissue.

This is why the ingredients you use on this skin type are important if you want to keep your skin healthy.  If you don’t repair the damage, it can lead to a breakdown in collagen and elastin—your internal scaffolding, which keeps your skin, plump, taut, and youthful.

Common causes of dry skin

  • genetics
  • smoking
  • medication
  • poor lifestyle choices
  • overexposure to UV
  • drugs both medicinal or recreational
  • lack of essential fatty acids
  • overuse of astringent products
  • an imbalance in the skin’s sebum
  • exposure to chemicals and pollutants
  • poor health, thyroid disease, and diabetes
  • overzealous exfoliation which can cause tiny micro-tears
  • metabolic changes in the skin and hormonal imbalances such as pregnancy
  • low or high humidity levels and temperature can dry skin out leading to dehydration
  • the hormone estrogen can influences skin, after menopause this hormone decreases which dries skin out

Why your skin could be dry

As you can see, your dry skin concerns are a lot more complicated than first expected; this is because there are so many conditions being presented:


These are proteins found in the cell membranes; their role is to transport water and glycerine to your skin, enhancing trans-epidermal water permeability whilst preventing water loss.

Research has found that a lack of aquaporins in the stratum corneum can cause several problems, including delayed wound healing, a reduction in skin elasticity, and a reduction of glycerol in your skin’s outer layers, leading to dry, flaky skin.


Scientific research has found that a lack of the protein filaggrin, is one of the main causes of dry skin, a condition we discuss in detail in the article Ichthyosis Vulgaris – bringing us one step closer understanding how to really treat dry skin.


Interestingly this is also derived from filaggrin; its role is to help the stratum corneum to maintain moisture levels.

If your skin lacks filaggrin, the natural moisturising factor fails to do its job in arid environments; this has a knock-on effect increasing the level of dryness and dehydration.


Hyaluronic is an essential component of your skin that depletes with age; this can reduce your skin’s water-holding capacities.

This is why it is important to look for formulas that contain high molecular weight hyaluronic acid such as H20 complex. Topical application will help keep the outer layers of our epidermis nicely hydrated, binding moisture within your skin tissues, and keeping it soft and supple.


This interferes with desquamation, the way your skin naturally exfoliates. As you age your skins normal enzymatic activity slows down, preventing the corneocyte cells from separating during desquamation. As a result, your skin cells bind together, producing that classic scaly skin.

This is an interesting article on xerosis cutis, which is an abnormally dry skin condition.

Fixing your dry skin

    • avoid foaming cleansers they are too harsh and will strip the water out of your skin after washing
    • perform your skincare routine quickly, as soon as you have cleansed and then apply the toner damp on the skin. Then layer with your moisturiser – this guarantees that your skin feels soft and stays protected
    • never skip your nightly routine: At night your skin is at rest, this is when the skin’s permeability is at its highest, thus allowing the active ingredients to absorb deeply
    • for extra hydration, apply a few drops of a humectant based serum, let it sinks in then apply your moisturiser, to lock them against your skin
    • never over-exfoliate, if you have dry, flaky skin it is an important step not to miss, but keep it gentle – otherwise you will cause tiny micro-tears in the skin which can damage the barrier


As an aesthetician, it is always interesting that dry skin is misunderstood and complex; it will often take backstage compared to other skin types.

Yet it requires different treatments at different times because there are so many triggers that can set off dry skin types.

Treating your dry skin concerns is possible, just become your own label detective and ensure you are using a well-formulated moisturiser. Over time you will see it return to it’s youthful, dewy glow.


Research on why eczema:
Dry skin:
Dry skin diagnosis:
The effects of dryness:

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