It seems totally counterintuitive, the fact that water can actually dry your skin out. Wet, cool, and soothing when first applied to the skin, water feels like it will hydrate your skin, but applying it externally isn’t going to do the trick. In fact, if your skin is already dry, excessive exposure to water will increase the dryness of your skin.
Anyone who’s fallen asleep in a lovely warm bath knows the ‘old folks’ fingers and toes that result from having your skin submerged in water for an extended period. The ends of your appendages wouldn’t look amiss in a packet of prunes, and that’s all thanks to the water.
I remember my mother, who swore by her facial toners and I can honestly say that I never saw a drop of tap water touch her face. She passed away at 87, her pale, flawless English complexion and smooth facial texture belying her age.
How and when water dries the skin
Anything that causes loss of water and reduces barrier function of the top layer of your skin, called the stratum corneum, can lead to the feeling of dry skin. Exposure to outside irritants such as chemicals, solvents, detergents, and yes, excessive water, can make skin dry.
Tap water contains normally “harmless” additives such as chlorine, magnesium, or iron, all of which can have a negative impact on skin that is already sensitive. Hard tap water, which is discussed in more detail below, really exacerbates water-related dry skin, its mineral constituents booking your pores and leeching moisture from the skin.
Here are a few simple things to keep in mind when it comes to water and dry skin.
- Cold climates aggravate the drying effect of water on the skin
- Bathe or shower in water that is excessively hot and you will dry out your skin further. The cooler the better is a great rule of thumb.
- Limit your bathing time to about 10 minutes, and if you can trim down that time, all the better.
- Drinking more water will keep your body hydrated, but that doesn’t extend to your skin. While becoming dehydrated isn’t going to do your skin any good, you can’t simply re-moisturize dry skin by drinking more water.
- Check your local water quality. Hard water is a major cause of dry skin.
- If you must wash your face with water, do it once a day only. Toners and some oils are an excellent alternative to water and will strip away most make-up.
- If you’re going to have your hands or body immersed in water for an extended period consider wearing gloves or using a barrier lotion.
How to spot “Hard Water”
A high amount of calcium and magnesium makes water extremely hard, leaving stains on your plumbing fixtures and utensils and damages your skin and hair. There are a few telltale signs you can look out for that will tell you if your local water is hard. In severe cases, extended use of hard water can lead to dermatitis, especially if you live in places with a dry climate.
- Dry and irritated skin
- Rough hair
- Dry scalp
- Rough clothes
- Scale buildup on faucets
- Film on shower doors, walls, bathtubs
- Low water pressure
Moisturizers can act to draw away moisture from your skin
Modern moisturizers are designed with molecules that attract moisture from the surrounding air. This is a simplified explanation of an ingenious product design, but it comes with drawbacks you should be aware of if you suffer from dry skin.
If you live in a climate that doesn’t have much moisture present in the air, the moisturizer will still do what it was designed to do, but it’s going to find the moisture in your skin, actually drawing water and moisture out of your skin cells. Obviously, if your skin is already very dry, it’s going to worsen the condition.
A simple and usually cheap tub of aqueous cream with no added fragrance or additional ingredients is often your best choice if you live in a dry and windy climate. Here are a few simple tips to remember about moisturizers if you suffer from dry skin.
- Avoid any moisturizing product that is fragranced. Peaches are supposed to smell like peaches, not your skin. Fragrances are one of the primary irritants of sensitive skin.
- Petroleum-based products, whilst sealing the skin, often irritate sensitive skin. Avoid them.
- Keep body lotions on the body and face creams on the face. Consider an oil for your face as an alternative to cream and natural organic shea butter or coconut oil for your body.