Understanding the causes of dry facial skin

Understanding the causes of dry facial skin

External causes

All the external causes of dry facial skin cause the natural lipid surface barrier to deteriorate. Once this lipid barrier is broken, moisture can evaporate and the vital moisture-binding substances are easily washed out. As these natural moisturising factors are missing, the skin cannot hold as much water and becomes dry until they are replenished, and the lipid barrier on the surface is repaired.

If the dry skin is not treated with moisturisers that contain moisturising factors, the dryness can progress deeper into the facial skin and disrupt moisture networks in the deeper layers of the skin.

The natural upward flow of moisture into the upper layers is reduced, resulting in very dry skin.

External triggers

The main external triggers are environmental triggers and inappropriate facial skin care routines. The face is generally exposed to these external causes of dry skin much more frequently than the rest of your body:


  • Harsh weather conditions – hot, cold and dry air.
  • Seasonal changes – Dry skin symptoms are more common in the winter and summer months.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) sunlight can increase the rate of skin ageing, and skin becomes more prone to dryness as it ages.

Skin care

  • Frequent washing, or long, hot baths or showers, removes away the lipids that make up the skin barrier.
  • Inappropriate facial skin care routine – It is important to follow a routine, and use products, that are suitable for dry skin. It is especially important not to use strong soaps that strip away natural skin lipids.

Some medications have the side effect of changing the water balance within the skin. Medications that control blood pressure, known as diuretics, are known to have this side effect. Always check with a doctor or pharmacist if you are concerned a medication may contribute to dry skin.

Internal factors

Genetic influences
Every person has a unique set of genes, which determine skin characteristics like pigmentation, moisture and lipid levels. This means that, under identical conditions, different people will have different moisture and lipid levels in their skin. Fair-skinned individuals are more likely to determine dry skin than people with darker complexions. Additionally, diseases such as Atopic Dermatitis, Psoriasis, diabetes and ichthyosis often, but not always, have a genetic link.

Hormonal influences
When the level of these hormones change, for instance during adolescence and menopause, the skin’s moisture balance can be affected. During menopause the amount of estrogen in the body is reduced, and this can result in the skin becoming dryer. Dry skin may also occur during pregnancy.

The skin’s ability to produce sweat and lipids decreases as people get older due to a reduction in function of sebaceous and sweat glands in the skin. Increasing age leaves the skin more prone to dryness and the drier the skin the more prone it is to the formation of dryness-induced fine lines and wrinkles. Read more about age-induced dryness.

Premature skin ageing
Skin ageing occurs naturally with increasing age. However, extensive and unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can increase the rate of skin-ageing, thus leading to premature fine lines and wrinkles.

The skin requires a range of nutrients, unsaturated fatty acids and vitamins in order to function correctly. A lack of any of these can contribute to dry skin.

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