All Dried Up?

Don't let dry skin beach you

August 2010 Feature Brandon Barrus

I'm a lucky guy when it comes to this topic; my skin rarely has dryness issues. My wife's family, however, deals with dry skin and other related issues on a constant basis. As they live in a desert climate, this is a regular battle.

The simple truth is that no one likes to deal with dry skin. The itching, scratching annoyance can make you feel like you're a Gila monster or at least a cousin to the venomous lizard. Luckily, most dry skin results from environmental factors that you can at least partially control. Unluckily, most of these environmental factors can exist when you are houseboating.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms for typical dry skin: a feeling of skin tightness (especially after showering or bathing), skin that appears to be shrunken or dehydrated, skin that feels or looks rough, slight to severe flaking and redness. But what causes this condition? Let's get down to the nitty gritty details and learn something, shall we?

In short, dry skin is caused when the skin loses moisture. Weather is a big culprit, and if you live in the dry, dry desert of Arizona you will deal with dry skin much more than if you live in Texas, which has a humid environment. That said, winter conditions suck the moisture out of the air as well, and can exacerbate existing skin problems.

The Mayo Clinic reports that central heating and air conditioning can also contribute to dry skin by reducing humidity in your houseboat. Is it worth trading one comfort for another? That's a question everyone will have to ask himself.

Hot baths and showers, particularly frequent and long ones, break down the lipid barriers in your skin that prevent moisture from escaping. Frequent swimming, in lakes or otherwise, can also have this effect. In relation to bathing, harsh soaps, deodorant and anti-bacterial soaps are also big culprits. Shampoos dry out your scalp, as well.

Laying out on top of your houseboat means exposure to the sun, which means exposure to heat and UV rays, which penetrate deep below the top layer of your skin to damage the dermis, leading to sunburn and wrinkles.

Normally, your skin can recover from this constant assault, but for some, treatment may be needed. Severe cases that require medical attention include the following symptoms: skin that does not improve no matter what efforts you make, dry skin accompanied by redness, dryness or itchiness that interferes with sleeping and large areas of scaling or peeling skin.

But what's the big deal? Dry skin is an annoyance, sure, but do I really need to see a doctor? Unfortunately, this condition can lead to more serious problems, like atopic dermatitis (or eczema), which causes redness, cracking and inflammation. Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles brought on by dry skin. But most serious is cellulitis, which is bacterial infection of the skin's underlying tissues that may enter the lymphatic system and blood vessels, leading to sickness. This occurs when severely cracked skin creates fissures in the skin that allow bacteria to penetrate.

So how do you deal with this problem? In most cases, dry skin problems respond to common-sense measures like using moisturizers and avoiding the aforementioned long, hot showers and baths. For houseboaters, this means packing plenty of moisturizers and limiting your time in the water if you are particularly susceptible to this problem.

Thicker moisturizers work best, such as over-the-counter brands Eucerin and Cetaphil. If your skin is extremely dry, you may want to apply baby oil while your skin is still moist. The oil has a longer effect than moisturizers do, and prevents the water from evaporating from the surface of your skin. For best results, apply moisturizers immediately after bathing or swimming. Gently pat your skin with a towel so that some moisture remains in the skin, and then apply to trap water in the surface skin cells.

A humidifier is another great option when dealing with dry skin. A portable humidifier can work great in a houseboat, where hot air trapped inside can make skin conditions worse. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as bacteria can form and then be spread through the air.

Another thing you can do is choose fabrics that are gentle on your skin. Wool can irritate even the healthiest skin, and cause problems for people dealing with dryness issues. Use cotton and silk to allow the skin to breathe. Wash your clothes in detergents that do not use dyes or perfumes, both of which have the potential to irritate your skin.

In serious cases, a doctor may do a series of tests and prescribe prescription creams, ointments and other treatments in addition to home care.

For more information on dealing with dry skin, visit

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