If you’re not typically dry-skinned, it can be difficult to understand the reason behind the itching and tightness that often comes along with it. It’s uncomfortable, you’re finding it difficult to stop yourself from scratching, and in some cases you may even have visibly flaky or rough-looking skin.
One of the most common places that this dryness and irritation shows up is on the legs, a part of our body we often forget about as we cover up with pants, leggings, and tights! There are many reasons behind why you might be experiencing dry, itchy skin on your legs – but that also means there are many solutions to be found. Let’s take a look at why your legs might be drier than usual, and what you can do to solve the problem.
1. You’re washing with water that’s too hot
As nice as a hot shower or bath might be, washing in water which is too high a temperature can make your skin dry and itchy. Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, meaning you may experience irritation. Try to shower in warm water, and keep your showers as short as you can. Once you’re done washing, pat both your legs and the rest of your body dry instead of rubbing yourself all over with the towel – this is kinder to your skin.
2. You’re using products that irritate your skin
If you have more sensitive skin or skin which is typically dry, using certain products can make the problem worse. Some cleansing products can be harsh on the skin, disturbing its natural pH balance, and drying it out.
Why is the pH of your skin important? Well, if you’re ready for 30 seconds of skincare science, we’ll explain.
Your skin’s natural pH is mildly acidic, usually between 4-5.5 (anything below seven in the pH scale is acidic, seven is neutral, and anything above it is alkaline). This acidic pH influences your skin’s natural barrier function, along with the production of lipids (natural oils in the skin). Using cleansing products which don’t complement your skin’s natural pH can strip the skin of its protective oils – sometimes resulting in dryness and irritation.
To see if it’s your shower gel or body wash which is connected to your skin dryness, switch it up and look for a gentle product which will respect your skin’s natural pH. You may see ‘pH balanced’ or ‘for sensitive skin’ on the label.
3. You aren’t applying the right moisturizer
Finding a moisturizer that works well with your skin can sometimes be tough, as there are many different textures, consistencies, and formulations to choose from. If you’re experiencing dry skin on your legs, then look for a body moisturizer which has been specifically formulated for dry or very dry skin, which will effectively moisturize and deliver long-lasting hydration throughout the day.
After you shower or take a bath, pat your skin dry and then apply a good moisturizer over your whole body – especially those legs! Choose a fast-absorbing lotion to avoid any greasy, sticky feeling after you’ve gotten dressed, and moisturize once a day to keep your dry skin well-hydrated.
4. You need to improve your shaving technique
Some shaving techniques can irritate the skin, which could be the reason behind your itchy legs. You could be shaving too frequently, shaving the wrong way, or shaving too quickly – leading to ‘razor burn’, where the skin feels itchy, or looks red and inflamed.
A good alternative to shaving, if you’re looking for a gentler way to get rid of hair, is to use a depilatory cream – especially if you’re prone to developing ingrown hairs. Depilatory creams don’t remove hair at the root, but at the skin’s surface, so you may find that you reach for the cream more often than you would your razor…but you’ll be waving goodbye to any type of razor burn this way!
If you really don’t want to give up shaving, here are some simple shaving tips to help you avoid razor burn and the itchiness that comes with it:
- Before shaving, use a shaving foam or gel to help lubricate the skin
- Try not to dry shave or shave in cold water – lukewarm or warm is better
- Don’t shave against the natural direction your hair grows
- Keep rinsing your blade as you shave
Try not to shave too often, and replace your razor blade frequently, as old or clogged razors won’t help to give you a clean shave. After shaving, hydrate your skin with your daily moisturizing routine.
5. You aren’t drinking enough water
Your skin contains about 30% water, and this contributes to it looking plumper, more elastic, and being more resilient. If you’re not drinking enough water, then your skin may not be adequately hydrated, which could result in dryness. How much should you be drinking? The 8×8 rule is good to remember – eight 8-oz glasses a day.
Keep an eye on how much water you’re drinking throughout the day, because if it’s less than the recommended amount, you might not be getting enough. Search for apps that remind you to drink water or set a timer on your phone, and carry a reusable BPA-free bottle around with you to up that fluid intake.
6. You’re getting older
As your skin gets older, it gets drier more easily, as it becomes thinner and more fragile. The natural barrier function of the skin is also affected more and more as we age, which can result in dryness and flaking, and irritation in some cases – especially if you scratch at your skin.
Natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) are found in your skin’s uppermost layers, helping to keep it smooth and hydrated. NMFs can be affected by overwashing and using products which are harsh to the skin, and the concentration of NMFs naturally decreases as we get older.
Read more: 5 daily habits which can age skin
Keep your legs hydrated through regular use of a moisturizing lotion (not forgetting the rest of your body, either), and keep track of changes in appearance and texture to inform your dermatologist. Speaking of which…
7. You haven’t been to your dermatologist
Certain medical conditions can be a cause of dry skin. If your dry skin isn’t just a phase, and you’ve experienced it for several weeks, despite taking good care of it, it’s a good idea to visit your dermatologist. If there is an underlying cause to the dry, itchy skin on your legs (or anywhere else), they’ll be able to help find it, and give you personalized recommendations to combat dryness and inflammation.
Sources and references:
Surber, C., Abels, C., Maibach, H. (eds): pH of the Skin: Issues and Challenges. In Current Problems in Dermatology. Basel, Karger, 2018, vol 54, pp 1-10.
Popkin, B., D’Anci, K., Rosenberg, I. Water, Hydration and Health. In Nutrition Reviews (2010), Volume 68, Issue 8, Pages 439–458.