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Moisturize me! What your skin is telling you

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

If your skin could talk

Your skin is like a suit of armor — it protects you. You should give it the same courtesy. But how do you know what your skin is saying? Dermatologists interpret what your skin is drying (ahem; we mean dying) to tell you.
Woman applying facial cream
Photo credit: Fuse/Getty Images

Your skin looks flaky, ashy or powdery and is itchy

Jennifer Lee, M.D., of REN Dermatology, says that signs of dryness on the body may be caused by not moisturizing enough immediately after showering, before putting on your clothes. She says flaky, ashy, powdery and itchy skin are signs of atopic dermatitis, often called eczema.

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Your skin is peeling

Dr. Purvisha Patel, owner of and dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Associates, says that sensitive skin can peel, itch, sting and burn as a result of a reaction to products that are too harsh for it. She advises, "People with sensitive skin may need to use medicated soaps or other products."

Your skin has round, red patches

Other signs of dry skin are round patches of reddened skin on the body, almost in the shape of coins, which can vary in size from a dime to a quarter. Dr. Janet Prystowsky, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, says, "This is called nummular eczema and will respond slowly to over-the-counter treatment with products like Aquaphor. But for faster relief and a definitive diagnosis, consult your dermatologist."

Your skin is riddled with persistent redness, bumps/pimples or visible blood vessels

Dr. Patel says these are all signs of rosacea, a common skin condition that generally manifests after the age of 30. Though there is no cure, Dr. Patel suggests controlling it with nonabrasive skin care products, never rubbing your face dry after washing it (pat it dry instead) and avoiding triggers like alcohol, spicy foods, heat, sun and wind exposure, and emotional stress.

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Your skin is tight, red or cracking

Dr. James Marotta, a dual board-certified facial plastic surgeon, skin care expert and owner of Marotta Facial Plastic Surgery, says, "Dry skin is the result of the skin's underproduction of sebum. Without the assistance of an additional moisturizing agent, your skin would start cracking, itching and flaking, and become tight and red."

Your skin looks older than your age

He adds, "If dry skin is prolonged, your face would also age before its time, growing coarser. Vitamin A serum is one of anti-aging's most celebrated ingredients. But the catch is that it makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays," which is ideal in the winter. But in the warmer months, he advises using a vitamin C-based serum with antioxidants, which he says "will fight signs of premature aging caused by the drying effect of the sun and other environmental damage."

Your skin looks gray, dull or wrinkly

Dull, gray skin could also be your skin's way of telling you to moisturize. Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., F.A.A.D., adds, "Because dry skin doesn’t reflect light, it looks dull and wrinkly, especially the hands, knees and chest area."

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Your skin is stiff, rough, scaly or chapped

J. Michael Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., says, "When the skin becomes too dry, it will begin to feel stiff and will eventually become rough, scaly, and/or flaky if it is not treated properly. In some severe cases, the skin can crack and even bleed. Other signs of dry skin include chapped lips and red, itchy patches of skin." He says that although it sounds counterintuitive, overmoisturizing can actually lead to dry skin with these symptoms, as can using harsh products; soaps and cleansers can dry out the skin.

While most dry skin issues can be managed by regularly moisturizing and staying hydrated by drinking lots of water and eating water-dense foods, some severe dry skin problems may need professional treatment.

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