For the past month, I noticed that my thumb would get little red spots that itched so much it woke me up at night. As a health writer I began to wonder if this was the start of a bigger problem like psoriasis, eczema or ( horrors) even bedbugs. When I showed my spotty thumb to Dr Marmur, she smiled and nodded her head. Her diagnosis? My skin was so dry it was ready to crack open. It was a reminder that what we see as beauty problems are actually physical and chemical changes in the body that are causing unwanted consequences. And the solutions have to be based on science, not the latest fad ingrdient or celebrity interview.
What Causes Dry Skin?
For many years experts felt that dry skin was due to lack of oil and recommended rich creams and lotions to relieve the problem. Later doctors recognized that it was the loss of water that produced rough flaking skin– and that the creams acted like a shield to prevent evaporation of water from the skin. More recent research has drilled deeper into the issues and determined that chemicals in the skin play different roles in keeping skin hydrated. For example hyaluronic acid is a naturally occuring molecule that can hold 100x its weight in water. Ceramides are equally important as they act like glue to keep the cells together and not flaking off. It will probably come as no big surprise to learn that as we get older the levels of hyaluronic acid and ceramides drop sharply. That’s the bad news. The good news? Skin care products now can resupply these ingredients in their formulations.
Circumstances outside the skin can also be a bad actor in dry skin problems. Windy, cold, dry weather rob skin of its natural moisture. My long hot showers actually made my skin drier. My Mom has also been in and out of the hospital and I have been using up bottles of alcohol based hand sanitizer. The skin on my face and neck had been exposed to the same external issues, but I had been using mild cleansers and well formulated moisturizers as party of my regular skin care routinue. My thumb was on its own.
I had been putting a mild steroid cream on my thumb spots and covering it with a bandaid. I was so wrong on so many levels. The innocent looking bandaid was actually creating a soggy environment that was making matters worse. Dr Marmur prescribed both a stronger steroid and super emollient creams and soaps as well as a ban on hot showers. It turns out that once your skin gets this dry its hard to treat and will take a month to get back to its own normal.