Dear K.F.: In general, your skin is driest in winter, when temperatures and humidity levels plummet. Winter conditions also tend to make many existing skin conditions worse. But the reverse may be true if you live in a desert region such as southern California, where summer temperatures can top 115F and humidity levels sink to 10 percent or less.
What causes dry skin–or xerosis, as it’s known medically? Usually, something in the environment–or something you’re doing to your skin–is stripping away fatty oils, leaving your skin unprotected. Less often, the cause is internal; a health condition or genetic predisposition is making your skin dry out.
While patches of dry, itchy skin can appear anywhere, it’s most common on the arms, hands, lower legs, and abdomen. Dry skin is often felt more than it’s seen, but on some people it can be noticeable and embarrassing. For many African-Americans, dry skin is a special concern, since the flakes of skin can look gray, or “ashy”.
If untreated, dry skin can sometimes lead to dermatitis–inflammation of the skin–swelling, and infection. The good news is that just as most causes of dry skin are external, most cures for dry skin are external. With careful dry skin care, you can usually solve the problem.
Forget the old-school stereotypes, like black skin’s always oily. There’s little about African-American skin that is safely assumed, except that it can be supersensitive—its pigmentation, called melanin, may rebel against the wrong products by developing a discoloration that can stick around for months or years.
One of the most important things is to drink water. It helps to build moisture within your body. That is common knowledge but you also need a skin care regimen.
Limit alcohol and drugs, hot baths and showers which can have a drying effect. As you age your skin tends to be drier because your oil producing glands become less active. Women’s skin tends to become much drier after menopause.
Select soaps, deodorants detergents and personal skin products containing fatty oils derived from nuts such as Shea butter. Applying a light layer of olive oil after a cool bath or shower may also help.