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The science of your dry skin and how to remedy it

As if the current cold weather was not enough to deal with some of us are also suffering from dry, flaky skin. We look at why this happens, and what you can do to alleviate the dry skin blues.

The skin is our moisture barrier to outside elements and serves as our protector from changing weather conditions. There are multiple factors that contribute to a loss of moisture in our skins, especially during the cold weather months in a dry climate, like in parts of South Africa.

Why moisture loss happens

Water in your skin is lost through evaporation, this happens even when it's humid, but it happens less on those days than on days with low humidity. Meteorologists use the dewpoint temperature to measure moisture because it is the best representative of moisture content in the air. Typically, in a dry winter area in South Africa, the dewpoints are around 0℃!  So, unless you are outside with your skin exposed at freezing point, there will be no water vapour condensation on your skin! This is part of the reason your skin can feel abnormally dry this time of year.

The outermost skin layer consists of dead skin cells, this is called the stratum corneum and it forms a protective lining over the new, living skin cells below, preventing our skin from losing too much water. When the stratum corneum gets dry, it starts to shrink in size and eventually cracks. This is when your skin may even start to flake off.

Aside from providing a key physical barrier to the outside world, the skin is also the site of significant hormonal, immunological and metabolic function. We often, rightly or wrongly, judge an individual’s (and our own) general health status from how we perceive the skin to look.

Understanding dry skin

One of the main functions of the outer skin layer (called the epidermis) is to prevent water loss and maintain hydration of the skin. Cosmetically dry skin has been noted to have a weaker barrier quality than normal skin. Dry skin has also been shown to contain lower natural moisturising factors. Loss of function in the epidermis means that products and ingredients applied to the skin surface are more easily absorbed which can result in a reaction, leading to a condition called contact dermatitis. Dry skin can look rough, uneven, flaky, and even cracked. The skin may feel dry, tight, uncomfortable, painful, or itchy. Individual or environmental factors may also work together to produce dryness. If you are already suffering from skin disorders (e.g., atopic dermatitis) and increased age as well as low humidity and temperature, you may be suffering from dry skin.

healthy skin vs dry skin

source: acne.org

The prolonged use of soaps can have a negative impact on the skin barrier.  The alkalinity of soap leads to inflammation-accelerated ageing (called inflammageing). This breaks down the integrity of the skin cells resulting in decreased moisture manufacture, increased moisture loss and an increase in the permeability of the skin’s barrier. Liquid cleansers containing sulphates tend to be the most problematic, in contrast to amphoteric surfactants (e.g., betaines) which have a better safety profile. In addition to altering the water and skin surface function, irritants may also potentially alter the natural microbial flora of the skin. Preservatives in cosmetics can kill the biome of the skin, which can lead to a loss of moisture and subsequent dryness in the skin.

Despite consisting of dead cells, the stratum corneum plays some key functions.  Not only is it responsible for skin hydration, it also functions as a physical permeability barrier. In addition to keeping out reactive skin irritants and UV from sunlight, it also stops disease-forming bacteria. The very outer layer of the stratum corneum has a slightly acidic pH of 4.5 to 6.5 (sometimes known as the acid mantle) maintained through oil (sebaceous) and sweat gland secretion. This acidic pH has antimicrobial properties.

Natural moisturising factors and oils envelope the stratum corneum cells. Their hydrophobic (water-repelling) properties prevent water loss from the skin into the environment. Moisture is maintained in the stratum corneum by the maintenance of these oils. In dry conditions, there is a thickening of the stratum corneum, making the skin look scaly. 

How to restore skin moisture

If you're suffering from dry skin, there are a few things you can do to alleviate it. We highly recommend using a humidifier at home to add moisture to the air. You don't need one in every room, since these are portable you can move them into the room where you spend the most time. Move to the bedroom at night.

If you normally take a long, hot shower in the morning, try to lower the temperature, and shorten the time. Hot water will result in a loss of oils and natural moisturising factors from the skin, making the skin even drier.

Applying Thoclor Labs GF2 twice a day to dry skin is also a vital step. The active ingredient, our miracle molecule hypochlorous acid, repairs skin damage and rehabilitates the skin. The stratum corneum function and form are recovered. This is a new and exciting form of skin therapy and literally mimics the body’s own immune response to repairing damaged skin.  Recovery of the epidermal-dermal junction, where hyaluronic acid & hydration in the skin is recovered with the help of GF2, takes a little while. When using GF2 for the first time, oil secretion goes down before hydration catches up. During this time, you can apply a moisturiser or serum after the GF2 has dried naturally on your skin (do not rub it in). Look for a hydrating serum (containing hyaluronic acid, vitamin C or aloe vera as preferred) and use that on areas of dryness on the face.

Dermatologists have found that moisturisers with olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, or Shea butter are best at alleviating dry skin on the body, especially on areas that are exposed during the day, such as your hands. Apply the moisturiser to damp skin after your shower to get the maximum benefit.