Teaching your child

Anatomy of dry skin

Anatomy of dry skin

August 30, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"How does dry skin happen?"

Like many of the questions my 7-year-old poses to me, this one was asked while I was preparing dinner.

I looked down at my hands and the phrase, "Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize," came to mind.

My son was waiting for an answer, so I gave him one: Dry skin usually happens because we've taken some of the moisture out of our skin.

Dr. Susan Taylor, a dermatologist with a practice in Philadelphia, says there are basically two ways that this can happen.

Skin can lose moisture to air, usually in the wintertime when humidity is low.

Moisture also can be lost through the products we use. Harsh soaps and cleansers remove surface oil and disrupt the normal barrier skin provides.

There are also other causes.

Some disorders, such as thyroid disease, can cause dry skin, Taylor says.

And, sometimes a problem can look like one thing and be another.


Dry skin may actually be eczema or psoriasis. See a pediatrician or dermatologist to know for sure.

What can be done for dry skin?

Use gentle cleansers, not harsh soaps. Rinse thoroughly. Pat dry.

"Many parents think you have to rub and scrub," Taylor says. "You need to think of skin as a living, breathing organism and treat it gently."

After bathing, put a layer of moisturizer on damp skin. This will hold moisture in so there's no further water loss.

Think in layers

The skin is the body's largest organ. It is a seal that protects the body's organs from the outside world.

"Think of it as a protective barrier for the rest of the body," Taylor says.

It protects you from infectious organisms and harmful light rays, helps to control the body's temperature and eliminates certain wastes, according to the Dover Human Anatomy Coloring book by Joe Ziemian, illustrated by Margaret Matt.

Skin converts sunlight to vitamin D. Sensors in your skin detect pressure, pain and the temperature outside your body.

There are basically three levels of skin.

n The epidermis, the surface layer you can touch, contains nerves and cell fibers.

n The dermis, the middle layer, provides the skin's support.

n Subcutaneous tissue forms the fatty layer underneath.

A simple experiment

The skin is porous, although not as porous as a kitchen sponge.

If you'd like to teach your child how moisture is absorbed in the skin, give him an unused make-up sponge and place some water droplets on the sponge.

This will illustrate how the skin absorbs moisture.

Want to know more?

Check out the Dover Human Anatomy coloring book, available for $3.95 at This Web site is a great resource for educational supplements. The illustrations in the human anatomy coloring book are advanced for an elementary-age child, but if you break it down - study one part of the skin at a time, for example - a young child will enjoy it. Colored pencils are recommended for the number-coded illustrations.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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