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11 Causes of dry skin that prove you're your own worst enemy

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Surprising reasons your skin is dry and itchy

We all know harsh winter weather and hot showers tend to dry out your skin, but there may be some other, more unexpected, culprits behind that ashy look you're sporting.

We talked to the experts and found out what you may be doing to dry out your skin without even knowing it and what you can do to stop it in its tracks.

1. Antibacterial and deodorant soaps

Do you always reach for the bottle labeled "antibacterial" when you're shopping for a new cleanser? According to Dr. Nada Elbuluk, of the American Academy of Dermatology, you should consider passing over those bottles on your next shopping trip.

"Many people like these soaps because they feel that their skin is 'cleaner' after use. In reality, many of these soaps can be particularly harsh and drying to the skin, particularly in winter months," she explained.

2. Lip balm

Lip balms certainly serve a great purpose, but Elbuluk says if you're buying lip balm made with menthol, camphor or phenol, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. "These ingredients... can initially feel soothing to the lips, but in the long term can cause more irritation and dryness."

Kent Aftergut, a dermatologist at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, says you should also avoid flavored lip balms. "Flavored and scented lip balm may work against you. Subconsciously, you lick your lips in response to the flavor and scent. Saliva, while a quick fix for dry lips, actually desiccates them long-term."

3. Smoking

There are a million reasons you should avoid cigarettes, and you can add dry skin to that long list. Dr. Michael Taylor, dermatologist, said, "Smoking is the second most destructive skin problem, next to the sun. Smoking constricts the blood vessels of the skin, causing poor oxygen transfer (oxygen starvation) resulting in dryness of the epidermis and significant premature aging and wrinkling. Really awful."

4. Swimming

Believe it or not, water is pretty effective at stripping our skin of moisture, and it's not just steaming-hot showers that are to blame. Going for a dip — whether it's in a pool or the ocean — can be just as drying, if not worse.

Taylor says chlorine in a swimming pool can be majorly drying. When you think about it, it's not really surprising that a chemical strong enough to strip an entire pool of all that bacteria can also strip your skin of its moisture.

Sadly, hitting the beach isn't a much better option. The salt in the ocean water dries your skin out fast, and it doesn't all wash off in the shower. It lingers on your skin, meaning its drying effects are long-lasting.

5. Certain medications

According to Aftergut, "Some medications cause dry skin. Antihistamines, anticholinergics, diuretics, chemo drugs, tamoxifen, to name a few." More than likely, the benefits of those medications outweigh the burden of dry skin, but talk to your doctor or dermatologist to see if anything can be done to help ease that unpleasant side effect.

6. Air travel

Flying on a plane is detrimental to more than your patience. "Traveling in an airplane can take all of the moisture out of your skin, since the airplane's air does not recirculate as much," said aesthetician, Sarah Diana. She recommends using a hydrating toner to refresh your face, both before you take off and once you have landed.

7. Cleansing wipes

Those little packets of facial cleansing wipes are so convenient and easy to use, but they may not be the best choice for your face. Dr. James C. Marotta, a dual board-certified facial plastic surgeon and skin care expert, says it may be worth the trouble to wash your face the old-fashioned way. "These wipes sometimes contain harsh chemicals and alcohol, which when used are then rubbed vigorously into the skin, particularly around the super-delicate eye area. As well as irritation, high levels of alcohol can also cause extreme dryness and premature aging.

8. Dry, scratchy towels

Yep, you read that right. You don't only have to worry about what you wash your face with, you also have to consider what you're using to dry it. Marotta says, "Dry towels can wreak havoc on your skin because they cause irritation and dryness, which in turn can lead to aging. Instead, pat your skin dry with a clean, gentle towel."

9. Alcohol

Your favorite nightcap may help you sleep better, but according to Marotta, it won't make you wake up looking any brighter. "All alcohol dehydrates the skin. This means your skin will appear less plump and fresh the next morning after a night of drinking. With repeated use, these changes in the skin can become more permanent.

10. Petroleum jelly

If you're like most of us, you've been taught your whole life that petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum) is the go-to cure for dry skin. Some skin care experts, including Lynda Torrey, director of wellness for the Woodhouse Day Spa, disagree. "Anything containing the ingredient petrolatum, from baby products to Chap Stick to hand lotion, will be drying to the skin," she said. "Products that feature this ingredient will appear extremely moisturizing at first; however, it creates a barrier on the skin that does not allow nourishment and hydration to be absorbed. Ultimately, this leads to dryness and dehydration."

11. Aging

Unfortunately, dry skin is just a part of the aging process, says Taylor. "As we age, the skin becomes less able to hold moisture and thus becomes dried," he said. This means a good moisturizing routine is even more important as we get older.

Disclosure: This post is part of a sponsored advertising collaboration.

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The cool way coffee can protect your skin
5 Things everyone with dry skin should be doing
Why you look so dang tired

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