The Causes of Flaky Skin and What You Can Do About It
When you leave something rubber or leather out in the elements, like a ball, a bicycle seat cover, or a lazy boy recliner (we don’t judge here), the surface begins to dry rot. Repeated heatings and coolings paired with rain and sun slowly strip away moisture, causing the surface to crack and flake away.
The same thing can happen with your skin. The human body is roughly 60% water, and your skin contains between 10-20% of the stuff. To help keep this water where it belongs, your skin secretes an oil called sebum, forming a protective layer. Many things can adversely affect the outermost layer of skin, leading to rapid moisture loss, which causes a decrease in function of skin protective molecules and then as a result of this there is abnormal sloughing of the skin’s outermost layer. The result is the visible appearance of flaky skin.
Flaky skin alone isn’t a cause for alarm, even if it’s a bit itchy. Even pink or red flaky skin can be something you can control on your own. When flaky skin gets itched it can take on a pink or red appearance. Commonly affected areas of the body include: Flaky skin on face, arms, hands, and legs.
What Causes Flaky Skin?
A range of diseases can cause flaky skin, but other more severe symptoms generally accompany a more serious problem. More serious conditions can be accompanied by symptoms such as cracking, swelling, oozing, crusting, scaling, and pain, but if one is only seeing a general sloughing off of small skin flakes, the causes are usually external.
Temperature extremes are often to blame. Hot, dry air can cause your skin’s protective oils, as well as the water below, to dry out. Cold weather can also cause flaky skin, particularly when moving from a cold exterior to forced-air heat inside. You’ll often see flaky skin on the face and hands, those areas exposed to the cold.
Hot water can also dry out the skin, as well as repeated or extended exposure to water in general. Finally, several chemicals, often found in everyday skincare products and cleansers, can strip away your skin’s protective oils thus causing more moisture loss. The scientific name for the loss of moisture from the skin is “transepidermal water loss” commonly abbreviated as TEWL.