What Causes Skin Dryness?

Skin dryness is extremely common and a lot of factors cause this. Dry skin can be caused by genetics, diseases, dry air, long exposure to water, skin care products, tight clothing, hot showers,  and medications. A dry skin can be uncomfortable and unpleasant to the eyes. To make matters most, it can be really itching and disturbing. Having dry skin has a lot to tell about your nutritional status, body stress, fluid balance and lifestyle. Our skin is soft and supple because of tiny structures such as glands that lubricate and protect our skin. These protect our skin from dryness and cracking and also has a bactericidal effect that is why sweating is a also a protective mechanism of our body to maintain hydration of the body and skin. Proper hydration also is imperative to make our skin look and feel supple and smooth. 

The Glands of the Skin

Sebaceous glands are simple alveolar glands that are found everywhere in our body except on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. These glands secrete oily and lipid rich secretions known as the sebum. Sebum is typically secreted in a hair follicle or occasionally into the body surface. Sebum softens and lubricates the skin. It also decreases the skin’s permeability to water and is quite bactericidal so it also protects the skin from foreign bodies that come in contact to it. Sudoniferous glands are also known as the sweat glands. These are well distributed over the entire body except on the nipples and potions of the external genitalia. There are over 2.5 million sweat glands in a person.

Two Subtypes of Sweat Glands

Our sweat glands or the sudoniferous glands have two subtypes. These are the Eccrine and Apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are more numerous than apocrine glands. They are prominent on the palms of our hands, soles of our feet, and on our forehead. These glands are simple, coiled, tubular glands. The ducts of the eccrine glands empty into a funnel-shaped pore of the skin surface. The function of the eccrine gland is to dilute watery solutions of some salts, including sodium, vitamin C, antibodies, small amounts of nitrogenous wastes such as urea, uric acid and ammonia, and also lactic acid in our skin. The normal pH of sweat is 4-6, creating a film on the body known as the acid mantle which protects the skin.

Apocrine sweat glands are found primarily in the axillary, pubic and anal regions of the body. They are also found in the facial region of men only. These are larger glands than the eccrine type. The ducts of apocrine glands empty into hair follicles. The sweat secreted by apocrine glands is thicker than the ones secreted by eccrine glands because it contains more lipids and proteins. When it is degraded by epidermal bacteria, foul odor can be produced. This is also known as body odor which is sometimes difficult to remove in some cases. Good hygiene care now becomes imperative since it can be smelled. Antibacterial soaps should be used in order to remove the bacteria causing odors. Using perfume will only mask the smell for a while but will not solve the problem. Apocrine glands become more active during puberty. More secretion of apocrine glands are actively secreted during times of pain, stress and sexual activity. To some people, this may have pheromone like function. The apocrine glands plays no role in thermoregulation or keeping the homeostasis of body temperature.

Fluid Balance in the Body

One function of our skin is to maintain fluid balance. The outermost part of our skin is called the stratum corneum. This corny layer of the skin has the capacity to absorb water,  thereby preventing an excessive loss of water and electrolyes from the internal body and retaining moisture in the subcutaneous tissues. When skin is damaged, for example, in the case of a burn, large amounts of fluids and electrolytes may be lost rapidly. A person having burn on the skin may be bound to having circulatory collapse that may lead to shock and death. The skin is a very protective barrier with this feature but the skin is not completely not permeable to water so there still can be losses. Small amounts of water continuously evaporate from the skin surface. These losses cannot be measured because it is due to the metabolism of the body. This evaporation is called insensible fluid loss or insensible perspiration and this amounts to up to 600 milliliter daily to a normal person. This fluid loss is variable with several factors such as climate and environment. A person with fever have more insensible fluid losses through evaporation. When the body temperature goes back to normal when the fever is gone, more losses occur when the person perspires due to sudden change in body temperature. That is why it is imperative to keep fluid and electrolyte balances in our daily lives in order to maintain good health and good skin integrity.

Prolonged skin dryness can lead to other skin diseases such as dermatitis or may lead to sores and cracking of the skin. When the skin is dry, the protective mechanisms of the secretions it produces is lessened and so the functions it brings are also diminished. Skin then becomes more prone to having infections and wounds.

When the body’s glands fail to keep the moisture and hydration of the skin, this is the time to use moisturizers and balms that will help prevent further dryness or cracking of the skin. Just make sure that these doesn’t cause further symptoms and damage to your skin. It is always a must to see a dermatological specialist to ensure that you are treating your dry skin safely.

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