Air-conditioning, excess sun and salt water, and harsh chemicals in skincare products can all strip your skin of much-needed moisture. Nina Stephenson has the answers.

Excessively dry skin can also be a warning sign of something more serious, like hypothyroidism, diabetes, or psoriasis, so check it out with your GP and naturopath. What can help treat dry skin?

Easy as EFA

Our bodies don’t produce essential fatty acids (EFAs) so we need to take them in via our diet. The essential fatty acids (polyunsaturated) include linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3). Linolenic and other omega-3 fatty acids are needed in a 2:1 ratio over omega-6 fatty acids, as they can be inflammatory. An EFA deficiency can reduce skin lubrication, and low levels in the body are associated with psoriasis, acne, dry and scaly skin, and eczema. Linoleic acid is involved in the cohesion of the stratum corneum (the hard outer layer of your skin), maintaining its integrity and preventing water loss, so low levels will cause dry skin. To treat an EFA deficiency, 3-6 grams of EFAs are needed daily. To achieve optimal levels of EFAs in body tissues, it is essential to avoid trans fats (in margarine, shortening, processed foods), and stick to good quality organic, grass-fed, unhomogenised butter, cream and milk.
* Cold-water fish Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, once a week. Avoid larger, predatory fish with a longer life-span (marlin, tuna, shark, swordfish) as they will have higher mercury levels.
* Flaxseed oil For a balance of omega-3 and omega-6, take 1 tablespoon daily and use in salad dressings (also a good option for vegetarians).
* Fish oil For a boost of omega-3, take 2-4 capsules of a practitioner-only fish oil supplement (my favourite is Metagenics MetaPure EPA/DHA). The oil is sourced from small, cold-water fish using eco-fishing practices, and is molecularly distilled to ensure purity and tested to contain levels of heavy metals, pesticides and solvents well below the government’s recommended levels. This is certainly not the case with many over-the-counter fish oils. Fish oil not kept in cool temperatures can also go rancid. Ensure you source your supplements through your naturopath.
* Evening primrose oil This is high in gamma-linolenic acid (omega-6) and can be taken as a capsule, or used as an oil straight onto the skin; it has also been proven to help atopic dermatitis.
* Rosehip oil Containing omega-3 and omega-6 oils, this may be used topically to prevent moisture loss.
* Vitamin E From the tocopherol family, this is an antioxidant (protects against damaging free radicals) and anti-inflammatory that stabilises cell membranes and protects skin tissue, acting as an anti-aging agent. Used as a pure oil it can be sticky, and is best used on smaller areas of dry skin and for wound healing. My favourite is the Invite High Potency 100% Pure Vitamin E Oil, while for an all-over body lotion I like Dr Organic’s Bioactive Skincare Organic Vitamin E body butter.
* Mind your minerals Your naturopath can give you a mineral deficiency questionnaire to ascertain your mineral status. Deficiencies in potassium sulphate, magnesium phosphate, silica, calcium fluoride, and sodium phosphate can all produce desquamation, a condition where the stratum corneum thickens, causing a dry, scaly appearance. These minerals can be supplemented with the Blackmores Celloids (ask your naturopath), and by eating an organic diet, as organic farming methods support and replenish the soil’s mineral content.

Nina Stephenson BHSc is a naturopath and nutritionist.