What Causes Dry Skin as We Get Older?

Joelle Klein

by | Read time: 5 minutes

As we get older, our body changes in many ways. One of those ways is that our skin tends to get dryer. While other changes to the skin, such as wrinkles, age spots and laxity, are more outwardly noticeable, you may not detect your dry skin or be bothered by it until you start to itch and flake.

Woman With Towel on Head Looking in Mirror Wondering What Causes Dry Skin | Vitacost.com/blog

One survey found that more than half of all adults had dry skin issues, and another one reported that 85% of older people get itchy, dry skin in the winter because of overheated dry air. But, knowing that it’s common for older people to experience dry skin does not make the itch less bothersome.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent and relieve dry, itchy skin and also reduce its flaky appearance. But, first, it helps to understand why skin loses moisture as we age.

What causes dry skin?

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to dry skin, including physiological changes, climate, underlying health conditions and personal grooming habits.

You probably won’t be shocked when we start this discussion with the sun. All advice related to skin health includes a warning about protecting your skin from the sun. And, when it comes to dry skin, sun exposure is, not surprisingly, a factor. The sun’s heat can dry out unprotected areas of skin and also deplete your skin’s water and oil content. While sun exposure can dry out anyone’s skin, the cumulative effect on aging skin can cause more significant problems.

Also, as we age, our outer skin layer, the epidural layer, gets thinner, and our cell renewal decreases, making our skin more fragile and dryer. Additionally, our sebaceous glands produce less oil, and our sweat glands produce less sweat, both moisturizing and lubricating essentials. Lastly, the loss of hormones for menopausal or post-menopausal women can also contribute to dry skin since estrogen stimulates the production of skin-enhancing collagen and oils.

Then there are lifestyle factors that can lead to dry skin on people of any age but cause more significant problems in older people who are already going through the physiological changes outlined above. These include:

  • Long, hot showers
  • Excessive exfoliation
  • Smoking
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Overuse of soaps
  • Live in a dry climate


Additionally, underlying health conditions such as diabetes, kidney problems, and certain medications can contribute to dry skin. Consult your physician if you have these conditions or if you notice a change in your skin texture after taking a new medication.

How to keep your skin hydrated

Two of the most effective tools to combat problematic and unsightly dry, itchy and flaky skin are sunscreen and moisturizer. It’s important to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to any exposed skin anytime you’re outside, even in the winter, and not just on the days you spend at the beach or pool.

But, if you are at the pool, beach, or outdoors all day, be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours or more if you’re swimming or sweating. In addition to protecting your skin from the drying sun, sunscreen blocks harmful UV rays, so you’ll also be reducing your risk for skin cancer, wrinkles, fine lines and age spots. And don’t forget your lips! They get dried out, too.

As for moisturizer, be sure to apply ample amounts soon after you get out of the shower, when your skin is still damp, and throughout the day, whenever your skin feels itchy or dry. By applying it to damp skin, you are locking in that moisture. And, if you’re not using a cream, ointment, or some sort of thick moisturizer, you should switch products. Fortunately, you don’t have to splurge on high-priced unguents; petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or aloe vera will do the trick.

Lotions, on the other hand, have more water content and are easily absorbed into your skin. So, while they may feel soothing upon application, a thicker product acts as a barrier, locking the moisture in and providing longer-lasting relief.

How to prevent dry skin

Other ways to combat dry skin include:

Take short, warm showers and baths instead of long, hot ones

Hot water can strip your skin of natural oils. Along with hot showers, avoid hot tubs and keep your showers to five minutes or shorter.

Wash with gentle, fragrance-free moisturizing cleansers and body washes

Traditional soaps with fragrances can dry and irritate your skin and aren’t necessary to keep it clean. Gentle products with ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and lanolin help cleanse and moisturize without drying.

Use a humidifier in your bedroom

A humidifier can help combat dry indoor heating and dry climates. But, you don’t need one in every room, just the room you spend the most time in.

Wear gloves when doing housework and gardening

Gloves help protect your hands from chemicals or harsh cleaning ingredients when you’re doing dishes or cleaning your house. Additionally, sun and dirt can dry and irritate your skin while gardening, so gloves not only protect your hands from the elements, they can also reduce your risk of injury or cuts.

Eat food and use skincare products with antioxidants

Antioxidants protect against free radicals, the culprit behind aging and dry skin. You can eat your way to good skin with foods rich in antioxidants such as sweet potatoes, peppers, citrus fruits, cherries, spinach and olives. Or, you can apply topical products that contain caffeine, vitamin C, vitamin E, or green tea. Or, you can do both.

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