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When to pour oil on troubled dry skin

By Rod Tucker

Dry skinWhat we know about the barrier function of the skin has increased in the past 20 years. This has led to better understanding of dry skin conditions and the development of more sophisticated moisturising products.

Rod Tucker explains 

See What evidence is there for moisturisers?



The importance of the barrier function of skin is illustrated by the patient who has third degree burns and dies of dehydration. As well as preventing dessication, the skin also prevents invasion by micro-organisms, and guards against mechanical and chemical insults and ultraviolet radiation.

Readers will know that skin is composed of an inner dermis, which provides structural support, and an outer epidermis, which is composed of several layers of developing cells. Keratinocytes are produced from basal cells in the stratum basale and have a life cycle of four weeks.

As these migrate towards the outermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, they undergo maturation and differentiation into corneocytes — anucleated, flattened, hexagonal cells that are filled with water-retaining keratin and surrounded by a thick proteinaceous envelope.


  1. What is ichthyosis?
  2. What are ceramides and why are they important?
  3. How are moisturisers tested?

Before reading on, think about how this article may help you to do your job better. 


To read the full article download the attached PDF (830K)

Ask the expert Author Rod Tucker will be available to answer questions online on the topic of this article until 18 April 2011

Check your learning



Rod Tucker
, PhD, MRPharmS, community pharmacist

Key points

Factors affecting skin dryness include genetics, temperature and humidity, contact with irritants, medicines (eg, retinoids), disease (eg, hypothyroidism) and ageing.

Research into skin barrier function has revealed the potential importance of skin lipids, enzymes called kallikreins and a protein called filaggrin.

People with dry skin should be advised to avoid prolonged periods in centrally heated or air-conditioned rooms.

It is advisable to recommend people with dry skin, especially those with eczema, to avoid soaps because they raise skin pH, increasing dryness and promoting growth of Staphylococcus aureus.

People with diabetes should be encouraged to take good care of their skin.
Moisturisers contain humectants, occlusives and emollients.

Effects of products on skin barrier function can be measured using transepidermal water loss, capacitance and conductance.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11072246

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