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.

Alleviate Symptoms: Flaky Skin On Face and Hands

Flaky skin symptoms will often resolve on their own when the precipitating factors disappear. There are several things you can do to mitigate flaky skin on your own.

If the air in your home is warm and dry, a humidifier will add helpful moisture. When bathing, favor lukewarm water over hot and try to limit the duration. After you’ve toweled dry, apply a flaky skin cream moisturizer to trap moisture against the skin. It is important to use a moisturizing cream at least twice daily, and you can re-apply whenever your skin feels dry. If the  cream you select contains natural ingredients like licorice extract to soothe redness, glycerin to help trap moisture in the skin, and petrolatum to protect the skin barrier you have found an excellent product!

In general, choose flaky skin products free of harsh chemicals like fragrances, dyes, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. When looking at cleansers and shampoos you want to make sure it contains ingredients that help drive moisture back into the skin. Ingredients that perform this function are called humectants. Humectants help to battle transepidermal water loss. Excellent humectants are hyaluronic acid, glycerin (synonymous with glycerol), apple fruit extract, aloe vera, oatmeal and provitamin B5.

Favor soft cotton clothing as well, as rough, scratchy fabrics like wool can irritate the skin.

If symptoms are not getting better, after a couple of weeks, while complying with the above suggestions then you should consult with a doctor.

Flaky skin is avoidable if you’re diligent and treatable if you’re not. Like your favorite leather couch with the butt print that fits you just right, you can keep your skin supple and moisturized by keeping it protected.