It's a common complaint, especially among older women: Itchy, dry skin that's usually worst in the winter. Overheated indoor air may be to blame. Also, your oil and sweat glands grow less active as you age. Both make it harder to keep your skin moist. One simple remedy is to drink lots of fluids, which helps your skin heal and bounce back more quickly.
One in four women complain that their fingernails are dry and brittle. As you get older, the nails on your hands -- but often not on your feet -- may thin and become more prone to split lengthwise or peel back at the tips in layers. Washing and drying your hands often also may take a toll, as can dry heat and low humidity. Protect them with gloves and thick moisturizers like petroleum jelly at bedtime.
Your mature years can trigger it. So can certain medications and health conditions like Sjögren's syndrome. They prevent your salivary glands from making enough saliva to moisten your mouth. Dry mouth can lead to more problems, like sores and tooth decay. Your doctor can diagnose the root cause and tell you if drugs, drops, or special rinses may help.
It's the best -- and cost-free -- way to protect your skin and to guard against dryness. When you stick to the shade, you give your skin a chance to repair itself. Try not to step out between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is at its fiercest. Don't be fooled by overcast skies. The harmful ultraviolet rays pierce through clouds. They zap right through water, too.
Extremely dry and itchy skin can stem from high blood sugar that causes type 2 diabetes. Poor circulation or infections that often happen with the condition may be to blame. Getting your blood glucose level under control may help ease the dryness. Other health problems that may lead to dryness include:
- Kidney disease
- Anemia, aka iron deficiency
- Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones)
- Rheumatoid arthritis, which can make your eyes dry
- Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth
- Don't lick your lips
- Drink lots of liquids and use a humidifier
- Wear lip balm or cream with a sunscreen
- Wrap a scarf around your mouth in cold temperatures
This happens in about half of the women after they stop menstruating. As with other menopausal symptoms, it's triggered by the sharp drop in the female hormone estrogen. Vaginal dryness tends to linger because the tissues in the area get thinner and less flexible. Regular sex or stimulation are just two ways to keep your vagina lubricated. Another is over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer.
Tear glands in older eyes might not work as well as they used to. You might feel like you've got specks of sand in your peepers. Or they may sting. Dry eyes can be a normal part of aging. Certain medical conditions can bring them on, too. Your eye doctor might suggest:
- Eye drops
- A humidifier or air purifier
- Special ointment to keep your eyes moist
Hormone-driven signs of aging are easily visible on your head. Hair may turn gray or thin. The strands may grow drier, too, thanks to oil glands that become sluggish over the years. Other reasons include if you:
- Have hair that is long, curly, or both
- Are African American
- Color, straighten, or chemically process your hair
Drier hair usually can do with less frequent washing. Just watch out for dandruff, which may require a special shampoo.
Lots of things and habits can sap your skin of moisture. The roughest patches might appear where your skin is thinner -- your elbows, shins, and forearms. Causes may include:
Liquids flush toxins from your body and help your skin stay dewy. Water is always a good pick. So are fruit juices, milk, and water-rich fruits and veggies like cantaloupe, watermelon, celery, and lettuce. But limit coffee, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks. They are actually diuretics, so they leach water out.
Follow these savvy practices to ward off dryness:
- Take quick baths or showers with warm water and mild, unscented cleansers.
- Moisturize with thicker creams or ointments instead of lotion. Good bets have jojoba or olive oil or shea butter.
- Avoid products that can strip your natural skin oils, including alcohol-based toners, retinoids, and alpha-hydroxy acid.
- Wear gloves whenever your hands may get wet, including dishwashing and cleaning the bathroom.
At-home remedies and new habits might be all you need to ease your dryness. See your doctor if:
- Your condition doesn't improve. Something else may be going on.
- Large areas on your body start to peel or get scaly.
- Your skin gets red and itchy. Scratching can cause sores and infections.
- Your symptoms keep you from sleeping well.
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- Mayo Clinic: "Drugs and Supplements: Antihistamine," "Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can It Affect the Eyes?," "Vaginal Dryness After Menopause: How to Treat It?," "Dry Mouth," "Chapped Lips: What's the Best Remedy?" "Dry Skin."
- National Institute on Aging: "Skin Care and Aging," "Aging and Your Eyes."
- Cleveland Clinic: "Aging and Painful Skin," "Aging and Painful Skin: FAQs," "Cancer Treatment: Skin, Hair and Nail Care During and After Treatment," "How to Tell If You Have Iron Deficiency Anemia."
- American Academy of Dermatology: "How to Select a Sunscreen," "Dermatologists' Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin," "Diabetes: 12 Warning Signs That Appear on Your Skin."
- National Eczema Society: "Emollients."
- RML Specialty Hospital: "Winter Skin: Creams vs. Ointments."
- National Kidney Foundation: "10 Signs You May Have Kidney Disease."
- Harvard Medical School: "The Lowdown on Thyroid Slowdown."
- Harvard Women’s Health Watch: "Don’t Ignore Vaginal Dryness and Pain," "By the Way, Doctor: Does Having Ridged and Split Fingernails Mean I'm Unhealthy?"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "Stay Hydrated With Fruits and Veggies."
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Brittle Splitting Nails."
- Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation: "Dry Mouth: A Primary Symptom of Sjögren’s."
- MedlinePlus: "Aging Changes in Skin."