9 Causes of Dry Skin - Menopause to Malnutrition

Posted by Dr. Natasha Ryz on

Dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

Dry skin can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental conditions such as cold weather and low humidity, sun exposure, swimming in chlorine treated pools or the overuse of harsh soaps.

As we age, our skin naturally becomes drier due to a decrease in water retention and oil production. Menopause can also cause dry skin.

Dry skin can also be caused by malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

Understanding the root causes of dry skin is essential for effective treatment and prevention, ensuring your skin remains healthy and happy.

This article will discuss:

    • What causes dry skin?
      • 1. Cold weather can cause dry skin
      • 2. Low humidity can cause dry skin
      • 3. Sun exposure can cause dry skin
      • 4. Chlorine exposure can cause dry skin
      • 5. Harsh soaps can cause dry skin
      • 6. Aging can cause dry skin
      • 7. Menopause can cause dry skin
      • 8. Malnutrition can cause dry skin
      • 9. Vitamin deficiencies can cause dry skin
    • Summary
    • References

    Cold Weather can cause Dry Skin

    1. Cold weather can cause dry skin

    Exposure to cold weather can cause dry skin.

    As the temperatures start to get colder, the air gets drier. Cold air has less moisture than warm or hot air, and cold air can be intensely drying on your skin.

    Strong winds can also strip moisture from exposed skin and disrupt your skin's moisture barrier.

    In a study with healthy women, a decrease in skin hydration and an increase in dryness score were found after the exposure to cold and dry wind (Roure et al, 2012).

    Cold weather may also reduce skin lipids.

    The surface of your skin is covered by a layer of protective fats, including epidermal lipids and sebum.

    Lower lipid levels in the stratum corneum have been reported in winter dry skin (Akimoto et al, 1993; Rawlings et al, 1994; Rogers et al, 1996).

    In a study with healthy women, aged 21-60 years, there was a pronounced seasonal decline in all the lipid levels in their skin - from summer to spring and winter (Rogers et al, 1996).

    There was a 20% decrease in ceramide 1 linoleate levels in leg samples in winter compared with summer (Rogers et al, 1996).

    To prevent dry skin, it is essential to protect your skin from cold weather!

    For instance, wear a face covering to protect against cold and wind.

    And always wear gloves. Especially if you have dry hands

    Low humidity levels can cause dry skin

    2. Low humidity levels can cause dry skin

    The water content of skin is remarkably high - the epidermis (the outer skin layer) contains more than 70% water, while its outermost layer, the stratum corneum has been shown to contain ~15 - 25% water (Caspers et al, 2001; Caspers et al, 2003).

    Adequate hydration of the stratum corneum serves three major functions (Fowler, 2012):

    1. it maintains plasticity of the skin, protecting it from damage
    2. it contributes to optimum stratum corneum barrier function
    3. it allows hydrolytic enzymes to function in the process of desquamation

      When the water content of the stratum corneum falls below 10%, scaling on the skin surface becomes visible (Rycroft, 1985).

      When your skin is exposed to a dry environment, it could be more susceptible to mechanical stress (Engebretsen et al, 2016). 

      Studies in humans show a reduction in transepidermal water loss (TEWL) (a measure of the integrity of the skin's barrier function) with low humidity, alterations in the water content in the stratum corneum, decreased skin elasticity and increased roughness (Goad et al, 2016).

      A study on dry facial skin found a higher dryness score with low temperatures, high wind speed and low humidity (Cooper et al, 1992) and as little as 15 min of cold and dry air has been proven to significantly decrease skin hydration (Roure et al, 2012).

      These data suggest that a reduction in temperature leads to a decrease in skin hydration and transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and that this effect is stronger when relative humidity is low (Cooper et al, 1992; Roure et al, 2012). 

      What is best humidity level for skin?

      Humidity levels within occupied spaces should not exceed 60%.

      When humidity levels fall to 30% or below, occupants begin to feel thermal discomfort (Goad et al, 2016).

      Learn more: How Does A Humidifier Help Dry Skin?

      Sun Exposure can cause Dry Skin

      3. Sun exposure can cause dry skin

      Ultraviolet (UV) exposure from sunlight can cause dry skin.

      Heat from the sun can dry out areas of unprotected skin and deplete the skin's natural oils. This can cause dry skin.

      UV energy includes UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. Each component of UV can exert a variety of effects on cells, tissues and molecules (D'Orazio et al, 2013). 

      UV exposure leads to oxidative stress and free radical damage. 

      Free radicals are unstable molecules or atoms that can damage skin cells.

      Free radicals are generated by daily environmental damage - such as UV radiation from the sun and air pollution. Free radicals cause destruction to your cells and tissues, and accelerate skin aging (Masaki et al, 2010).

      Chronic exposure to UV irradiation also leads to photoaging and increases your risk of skin cancer (Matsumura et al, 2004).

      It is best to avoid direct sunlight and to use sun protection and wear sunscreen when spending time outdoors. 

      Look for a sunscreen with moisturizing and soothing ingredients, such as zinc oxide, glycerin and niacinamide.

      Exposure to Chlorine in swimming pools can cause Dry Skin

      4. Chlorine exposure can cause dry skin

      Swimmers often complain of dry skin. Sensations of itching and skin tightness are frequently reported after swimming in pool water. 

      Recreational swimming can lead to significant transient changes in skin surface properties of women with healthy skin, including an increase in skin pH, and a decrease in sebum levels (Gardinier et al, 2009).

      In adolescents, swimming has also been shown to remove superficial sebum and leave swimmers at risk for dry skin (Morss-Walton et al, 2022).

      Pools treated with chlorine have higher health problems, such as eye and skin irritation, and skin dryness, compared to swimming pools treated with other chemical treatment methods (Fernández-Luna et al, 2016).

      If you suffer from dry skin, try to avoid swimming in pools treated with chlorine, and remember to moisturize or use body oil after swimming.

      Harsh Soaps can cause Dry Skin

      5. Harsh soaps can cause dry skin

      Soap is one of the most popular cleansers.

      However, high pH soap can irritate and damage your skin barrier.

      Learn more: The Problem with Soap for Cleansing Dry Skin

      Soap should be replaced with low pH syndet bars, or other gentle cleansers that can preserve your skin barrier, such as cream cleansers and oil cleansers.

      Learn more: 8 Types of Face Cleansers - Which Are Best for Cleansing Dry Skin?

      Aging can cause dry skin

      6. Aging can cause dry skin 

      As we age, several changes in our skin occur: 

      1. Skin barrier becomes more permeable
      2. Reduction in skin hydration
      3. Reduction in skin lipids
      4. Increase in skin surface pH

      (Choi et al, 2019)

      Dry skin is a common skin condition in older adults, but it is not a normal part of aging. Dry skin in older adults is multifactorial: intrinsic changes in keratinization and lipid content, use of diuretics and similar medications, and overuse of heaters or air conditioners all contribute (White-Chu et al, 2011).

      Dry skin can be minimized by increasing the ambient humidity, modifying bathing technique and skincare products, and using emollients to replace the lipid components of the skin (White-Chu et al, 2011).

      Aging leads to structural skin changes, including reduced dermal thickness, elasticity, loss of underlying fat, resilience, and increased dryness increasing susceptibility to injury (Fleck et al, 2007; Farage et al, 2007; Hanson et al, 2010, Koyano et al, 2016).

      Dermatoses such as xerosis (dry skin), pruritus, and eczema are also widespread in the elderly, create substantial suffering in those afflicted, and are often resistant to treatment (Farage et al, 2009).

      Learn more: What Happens To Your Skin as You Age

      Menopause can cause dry skin

      7. Menopause can cause dry skin

      During menopause, your ovaries stop producing the hormone estrogen.

      Ovaries stop producing reproductive hormones gradually, when women are in their 40's - 50's. Symptoms like hot flashes, mood changes, stress, fatigue, dry skin and itching are common.

      Estrogen-deficient skin becomes thin and has a decrease in barrier function.

      The first signs of skin aging start around 30 years of age when estrogen levels begin to decline, the skin thins, dries, wrinkles, and becomes pigmented unevenly with sunspots (reviewed by Lephart et al, 2021). 

      Declining estrogen levels are associated with a variety of skin changes, many of which can be reversed or improved by estrogen supplementation (Hall et al, 2005).

      Learn more: Does Menopause Cause Dry Skin on Your Face? 

      Malnutrition can cause dry skin

        8. Malnutrition can cause dry skin

        Malnutrition results from a lack of sufficient nutrients in the body. 

        Malnutrition can weaken the skin barrier, leading to dry skin and skin tears.

        Inadequate nutrition and hydration have been suggested to be risk factors for skin tears in multiple studies (White et al, 1994; Baranoski et al, 2016; Leblanc et al, 2008, Munro et al, 2017). 

        Skin tears can occur at any life stage and on any part of the body.

        Multiple risk factors for the development of skin tears have been identified, including older age, and dry skin (Munro et al, 2017).

        Dietetic consultation is recommended as a beneficial strategy for skin tear prevention and management in order to promote and monitor adequate nutrition and hydration (Munro et al, 2017).

        Vitamin deficiencies can cause dry skin

        9. Vitamin deficiencies can cause dry skin

        Individual nutrient deficiencies can also cause dry skin issues, including vitamin A and vitamin C.

        Vitamin A deficiency and toxicity can cause dry skin

        Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for many bodily functions, including proper vision, a strong immune system, reproduction and good skin health (Alashry et al, 2021).

        Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and dry skin (Akram et al, 2011; Phanachet et al, 2018).

        However, too much vitamin A can also cause problems - as dry skin, cracking of lips and painful areas of bone are examples of chronic vitamin A toxicity (Penniston et al., 2006).

        Vitamin C deficiency can cause dry skin

        Normal skin contains high concentrations of vitamin C, which supports important and well-known functions, stimulating collagen synthesis and assisting in antioxidant protection against UV-induced photodamage (Pullar et al, 2017).

        Vitamin C occurs primarily in fruits and vegetables, and scurvy develops from inadequate consumption of these sources.

        The earliest symptom of scurvy, occurring only after many weeks of deficient vitamin C intake, is fatigue. The most common cutaneous findings are follicular hyperkeratosis, perifollicular hemorrhages, ecchymoses, xerosis (dry skin), leg edema, and poor wound healing (Hirschmann et al, 1999).

        Treatment with vitamin C results in rapid, often dramatic, improvement.

        Relief from dry skin


        Dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

        Dry skin can be caused by environmental factors including cold weather, low humidity, UV radiation, harsh soaps and chlorine exposure.

        You skin becomes dryer as you age and if you go through menopause. 

        Dry skin can also be caused by malnutrition, nutrient-deficiencies or toxicity.

        It is important to protect your skin.

        Dry and dehydrated skin can be relieved with the use of moisturizers, humectants, and carrier oils, which are composed of essential fatty acids.

        Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about appropriate treatments for your dry skin.


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        Author Information

        Dr. Natasha Ryz, Scientist and Founder of Dry Skin Love Skincare

        Dr. Natasha Ryz is a scientist, skin care expert and an entrepreneur. She is the founder of Dry Skin Love Skincare, and she creates skincare products for beauty, dry skin and pain relief.

        Dr. Ryz has a PhD in Experimental Medicine from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and she is a Vanier scholar. She also holds a Master of Science degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

        Natasha is the former Chief Science Officer of Zenabis Global, and she oversaw extraction, analytics, and product development. Her team brought 20 products to market including oils, sprays, vapes and softgels.

        Why I Started A Skincare Company

        Email: natasha.ryz@dryskinlove.com
        LinkedIn: @natasharyz
        Twitter: @tashryz
        Instagram: @tash.ryz
        YouTube: @natasharyz

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