This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

Common causes of dry skin

Manage Subscription

In this article

Symptoms of dry skin
Sebum is important to keep skin moisturised
Why do I have patches of dry skin?
What causes red, dry flaky skin on the face?
Lifestyle factors that cause dry skin
Dry skin caused by medical conditions
Is dry skin a symptom of pregnancy?
Does the menopause cause dry skin?
Can my diet cause dry skin?
Foods to eat to help hydrate the skin
Drugs that can cause dry skin
Does castile soap dry out your skin?
Can sunscreen cause dry skin?
Does makeup dry out the skin?
Ingredients that can cause dry skin
Caster oil works as a humectant
Looking after your dry skin

Dry skin is a very common condition that can affect people of any age. Many of us have suffered with patches of dry skin at some point in our lives, but for others, it’s a lifelong condition that requires a lot of care.

Whilst dry skin isn’t a serious medical problem, it can be annoying and upsetting. It can also be associated with other more serious skin conditions

Here, we look at the common causes of dry skin, some of which you may not realise could be causing your skin problems.

Symptoms of dry skin

Dry skin conditions generally result in the following symptoms:

  • Tight feeling skin, especially after being in the shower or bath, or after swimming
  • Rough, parched skin
  • Redness of the skin
  • Itchy patches of skin
  • Peeling or flaking skin
  • Cracked or split skin

You may have all or some of these symptoms to varying degrees and they may come and go or plague you for life.

Sebum is important to keep skin moisturised

To stop the body losing too much water, glands within the skin produce an oily substance called sebum. This forms a waterproof barrier which doesn’t allow water to pass. However, if the skin doesn’t have enough sebum, water can escape in the form of excessive sweating and by evaporation. The skin then becomes dehydrated and begins to feel dry.

We can lose sebum via various means including excessive washing, using harsh soaps and abrasives and intense hot or cold environments. Some people produce too little sebum. This is especially the case with elderly people.

Why do I have patches of dry skin?

If your dry skin is caused by extremes of weather or temperature, it may only affect areas of skin such as the face, chest and arms that are exposed to the environment.

If it’s caused by coming into contact with irritants, such as in the case of contact dermatitis or eczema, then it will occur in the areas such as the hands that come into contact with the irritant or allergen.

Other times, dry skin can occur in seemingly random places on the body for no apparent reason.

What causes red, dry flaky skin on the face?

Dry skin on the face that’s irritated, red or flaky can be caused by exposure to the elements (see above). In other cases, it may be because you’re suffering with eczema or you may be sensitive to a product that you’re using on your face.

Lifestyle factors that cause dry skin

There are many reasons why you may be suffering with dry skin and your lifestyle may be affecting your skin in ways you haven’t realised.

Here’s some common lifestyle factors that can cause dry skin.

Can dehydration cause dry skin?

Being dehydrated can cause your skin to become dry and uncomfortable. When we’re dehydrated, we feel sluggish and the same can be said for the movement of fluids throughout our body.

The more hydrated we are, the more easily our blood and other fluids can move through the blood vessels and capillaries that feed the outer layers of skin. This better nourishes and hydrates the skin, causing it to feel less dry.

Can weight loss cause dry skin?

Being on a very restrictive diet may mean that whilst you’re losing the pounds, you may also be lacking in vital vitamins and minerals.

Nutrient deficiencies such as vitamins C and E and the B vitamins can lead to the skin cells becoming starved of these vital nutrients. This will lead to dry, itchy skin.

Also, if you’re exercising a lot, and having more frequent showers, this can lead to the drying out of your skin.

Does showering every day cause dry skin?

One of the major causes of dry skin is showering for too long, in water that’s too hot and using soaps that are too harsh for your skin.

Showering more than once a day can cause your skin to lose sebum, which naturally protects it from losing water. The hotter the water, the more it will strip the skin of these protective oils.

Also, using a soap or shower gel with highly scented, chemical based ingredients, or harsh exfoliants can also disrupt the skins natural barrier.

Our article on caring for dry skin is full of information on how best to clean your skin and what products to use and avoid.

Can hard water cause dry skin?

We might think of water as hydrating, and internally this is true. But in areas of hard water, the water contains high levels of minerals such as magnesium, lead and zinc.

These minerals can leave behind an invisible residue on the skin that leads to dryness in some people. These minerals can also react with the sebum on the skin, causing it to become thicker, leading to the clogging of pores.

This then causes inflammation and also prevents moisturisers from absorbing into the skin, meaning that they’re effectively useless and don’t help to hydrate the skin as they cannot penetrate deep enough.

This answers your potential question, why is my skin dry, even when I moisturise!

If you’re in a hard water area, consider investing in a water softener that is usually installed under your sink.

Does smoking dry out your skin?

Smoking is linked with a higher risk of developing dry skin and eczema. It’s thought that nicotine leads to inflammation in the skin and can affect the growth of skin cells which can lead to dryness and irritation.

Can stress cause dry skin?

When we’re stressed, we release stress hormones such as cortisol which restrict the blood flow to the skin. It’s very common to experience dry skin and skin rashes during an episode of prolonged stress.

Dry skin caused by medical conditions

There are certain medical conditions that can also lead to dry skin. Here’s some of the most common.

Does diabetes cause dry skin?

If you have diabetes, there’s a greater chance that you’ll develop dry skin. This is because the combination of high blood sugar and poor circulation causes the skin, in particular, the skin of the legs and feet, to become damaged and inflamed, leading to dry, itchy skin.

Is dry skin a symptom of pregnancy?

Pregnancy, especially early pregnancy, causes a woman’s hormones to surge. This change in hormones can lead to a drying of the skin, which should right itself once a woman has given birth.

Does the menopause cause dry skin?

Similarly, when a woman goes through the menopause, her hormones are again fluctuating which can lead to the development of dry skin.

Can my diet cause dry skin?

How diet affects the skin depends on our skin type. But there are certain aspects of our diet that we can also look at, to try to identify the causes of our dry skin. So, what foods cause dry skin and which foods can help to hydrate our skin?

Can eating salt cause dry skin?

Adding salt to your food and eating salty foods such as anchovies, soy sauce, crisps and heavily processed foods is dehydrating. If the body becomes dehydrated, it spells bad news for already dry skin. Salt draws moisture from the cells, leaving them parched and thirsty.

High doses of vitamin A can cause a drying of the skin, so watch out for excessively high amounts in dietary supplements.

Why does alcohol dry your skin?

Alcohol is a diuretic which means that it causes the body to produce more urine. This then means that you visit the bathroom more frequently. If you drink alcohol regularly, over time, this will cause you to become more and more hydrated.

Dehydration affects the skin, causing it to become grey, sallow and dry. Consider reducing your alcohol intake and always drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.

Caffeine can cause the body to produce more urine

Like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic which cause the body to produce more urine, in turn leading to dehydration.

Foods to eat to help hydrate the skin

Foods rich in vitamin E

Vitamin E rich foods such as nuts and avocadoes helps to keep the skin well hydrated and oiled.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Eating plenty of omega 3 fatty acids helps to keep the skin cells well nourished and hydrated too. Oily fish such as sardines and mackerel, walnuts and flaxseeds are all good sources of omega 3.

Fruits and vegetables contain high levels of water

Staying hydrated doesn’t just mean drinking water. There are lots of foods that are hydrating, most of which are fruits and salad vegetables.

Watermelon, oranges, kiwis, strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers all contain high levels of water which helps to keep the whole body hydrated. They’re also low in fat and packed with vitamins and minerals, so its win win!

Drugs that can cause dry skin

There are also some prescribed drugs that can lead to your skin becoming parched and dry. This is because they can make certain layers of the skin become more porous, which makes them leak moisture, leading to dehydrated skin cells.

Drugs that can cause dry skin include diuretics and cholesterol lowering medications.

The oral contraceptive pill, or the ‘the pill’ can also cause dry skin by affecting the levels of the hormones in the body.

Does castile soap dry out your skin?

Pure castile soap is made from 100% olive oil, which is great for hydrating dry skin. However, always check the label as some castile soaps have added coconut oil, which as we explained above, can make dry skin conditions worse.

Can sunscreen cause dry skin?

Some sunscreens that are mineral based (they’ll usually contain zinc oxide so check the ingredients) can be very drying on the skin. If your skin is already dry, using such sunscreens can cause your skin to feel worse.

Use every day non mineral sunscreens instead if you find that zinc oxide dries out your skin.

Does makeup dry out the skin?

If you have skin that’s prone to dryness, using makeup that’s not meant for dry skin can cause your skin to become even more dry.

Always use makeup that’s designed for dry skin that will help to keep it hydrated. Makeup designed for oily skin will have the opposite effect and will strip oils from the skin.

Ingredients that can cause dry skin

There are some ingredients commonly found in skincare that can cause dry skin to feel even more dehydrated. Watch out for the following ingredients.

Does coconut oil clog pores for dry skin?

Although often touted as the answer to everything from immune health to teeth whitening, Low quality coconut oil can actually make dry skin conditions worse in some people.

The benefits of coconut oil on the skin and face aren't always great. It can clog the pores, leading to breakouts, and mean that moisturisers cannot penetrate the skin deeply enough, rendering them useless. Which is the last thing you need when you have dry skin.


If you have acne and you use retinol (a vitamin A derivative) to help control your breakouts, it can have great success.

But as a consequence, it can also dry out the skin. As can using other topical acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide.

Glycolic and salycic acid

Exfoliating treatments such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid can also strip the skin of its natural oils which dehydrates the skin.

Is witch hazel drying to the skin?

Witch hazel has natural astringent properties which means that it removes excess oil from the skin. Dry skin in particular needs these oils to help keep it hydrated, so witch hazel can make dry skin worse.

Does apple cider vinegar dry out skin?

Like witch hazel, apple cider vinegar is an astringent and is best avoided if you have dry skin.

Why does hyaluronic acid dry my skin?

Hyaluronic acid is famed for helping the upper layers of the skin to appear hydrated and plump. But used on already dry skin, it can draw moisture away from the skin and cause it to become even more dry.

Caster oil works as a humectant

Quite the opposite to coconut oil, castor oil actually works as a humectant, meaning that it can draw moisture from the air into the skin.

So using castor oil on dry skin can be incredibly beneficial.

Looking after your dry skin

With everything we’ve mentioned above, there’s still the chance that something else is causing your dry skin. Equally, just because we’ve mentioned certain things here that can cause dry skin, they may not for you.

You know your skin best, so trial and error is the only way to get your dry skin under control. We hope though, that we’ve inspired you to take a look at your lifestyle, how you wash and the things that you eat and apply to your skin to see if you can get relief from your dehydrated skin.

We wish you all the best!

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

Follow Hannah using her profile below:
Eco & Beyond
For the Ageless