Woken up to find your face is a flaky mess - dry, tight, and sore?! Find out what might be going on!
There are so many reasons why skin can turn dry and flaky suddenly, but whatever the initial cause, the problem is fundamentally about skin barrier impairment.
Dry skin happens when the top layer of your skin isn’t as robust as it should be. Imagine the epidermis as a brick wall of cells, built to keep moisture in and irritants out. The wall is strengthened by a substance called sebum, an oil your body makes to keep skin soft, supple and robust. When bricks are missing, or the wall is tumbled down in places, the wall just doesn’t work very well.
The result for skin of lost moisture and sebum? A dehydrated top layer that feels dry, tight and flaky.
So what might be causing that barrier to break down? The answer can be a whole range of things, but tends to be either something external coming into contact with your skin which is stripping sebum and moisture from the epidermis, or something affecting the way your body works to produce sebum, which means it's not building an effective barrier.
Here are four of the most common reasons for sudden dry and flaky skin on your face:
1. The environment
Is it too hot? Too cold? Too dry? Whether you’re inside with the central heating or air con on, or out on a windy or especially sunny day, the humidity and temperature of the air around you can affect your skin dramatically. Any of these problematic environments can cause the skin to lose moisture to the air, and make your skin flaky and dry.
2. A reaction to something on your skin
Have you used a new moisturiser, shower gel or foundation recently? Is your soap highly alkaline or perfumed? Have you been swimming in a chlorinated pool? Your sudden dry skin could be a reaction to whatever has been on it, and alcohol, perfume and sulphates are all possible culprits for stripping the skin of its sebum.
3. Hot baths
If you’ve been taking long hot baths recently, it could be a combo of heat and water that has caused your skin to get dehydrated. Add bubble bath to the mix, and your skin won’t be at all happy about it. The trouble with heat, water and soapy bubbles is that all of them can end up washing away the natural oils that the skin depends on to maintain the barrier function, resulting in dry, itchy or sore skin.
One of the most overlooked factors in dry skin, stress can desiccate your face quicker that you’d imagine, leaving it flaky and sore just when you least need it. Stress - and not getting enough sleep - triggers physiological reactions in the body which result in inflammation and moisture loss; the result is skin that needs a whole lot of extra care and moisturising.
What can you do about dry skin?
- Moisturise with unscented oil-based emollients throughout the day
- Take short, warm baths or showers, rather than long, hot ones
- Keep yourself hydrated and well-nourished inside & out
- Develop stress-management techniques & take sleep seriously
- Switch perfumed toiletries, soap, detergents, cosmetics for gentler alternatives
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If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.