Skin troubles are frustrating. Many people seem to be doing everything right when it comes to their skin care routine, but they just can't get rid of nagging, severely dry skin. That's because the health of your skin, like the health of all of the other structures in your body, relies heavily on access to the right vitamins and minerals.
If you have severely dry skin, a vitamin deficiency and/or mineral deficiency may be to blame. If you have dry cracked hands, vitamin deficiency may be to blame, again. If you're not getting enough of certain nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc, it can take a toll on your body and eventually manifest as uncomfortable skin conditions.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A is well-known for its role in skin health. Cells in two specific layers of the skin, called the dermis and epidermis, contain specialized receptors that pull vitamin A into the skin and keep it healthy. Because of its ability to keep your skin healthy, vitamin A is often added to both over-the-counter and prescription skin care items in the form of retinoids.
If you don't take in enough vitamin A on a regular basis, it can result in a thickening of the skin due to a protein called keratin. Normally, keratin, which protects the skin from infection and other potentially harmful substances, goes through a cycle in which it's formed, rises to the skin's surface and then sloughs off. But if it builds up, it can cause patches of rough, dry and bumpy skin.
If you have bumps on the back of the arms, vitamin deficiency may cause that, too. This condition, known as keratosis pilaris, is also associated with the buildup of keratin. You may also notice areas of severe drying and scaling, similar to the plaques seen in those with psoriasis. In addition to severely dry skin, vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness (and eventual total blindness) and diarrhea.
Correcting a Vitamin A Deficiency
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements notes that vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States, but according to the Merck Manuals, underlying conditions that interfere with the proper absorption or storage of the vitamin increase your risk. These conditions include:
- Celiac disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic diarrhea
- Bile duct obstruction
- Prior weight loss surgery
If you have one of these underlying conditions, working with your doctor to get them under control is the first step in correcting vitamin A deficiency. For those without an accompanying medical condition, you can increase your vitamin A intake by eating more vitamin A-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, red bell peppers, mangoes and broccoli. This can help ensure that you meet your daily vitamin A needs, which is 700 micrograms per day for women and 900 micrograms daily for men.
Vitamin C Deficiency
If you have unrelenting, severe dry skin, deficiency in vitamin C may also be to blame. According to a review published in Nutrients in August 2017, normal healthy skin contains high concentrations of vitamin C. That's because your body uses vitamin C to make collagen, a protein that's a major component of not only your skin, but also your blood vessels.
If you're not getting enough vitamin C, it can disrupt the production of collagen and lead to a condition called hyperkeratosis. Hyperkeratosis is a thickening of the skin that can cause severe dryness, scaling, itching and calluses. In addition to dry skin, other symptoms like fatigue, inflammation of the gums, joint pain and delayed wound healing also indicate that you may have a vitamin C deficiency.
Correcting a Vitamin C Deficiency
Vitamin C deficiency is rare in the United States and other developed countries, but the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements notes that if your daily intake falls below 10 milligrams a day for several weeks, it can put you at risk.
You can correct a vitamin C deficiency by meeting your dietary needs, which are 75 milligrams per day for women and 90 milligrams per day for men, and including lots of vitamin C-rich foods in your diet. Foods that are highest in vitamin C include:
- Red and green bell peppers
- Oranges and orange juice
- Grapefruits and grapefruit juice
- Brussels sprouts
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
The mineral zinc is involved in many cellular processes and, according to the Australasian College of Dermatologists, a zinc deficiency can mimic the symptoms of a type of skin condition, called atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema, especially in the early stages.
In addition to severely dry skin, you may also experience thickened skin, cracked and scaly skin, redness, bumps and severe itching, especially at night. Over time, the dry skin becomes especially noticeable around the mouth and the hands.
Other possible symptoms of a zinc deficiency include:
Correcting a Zinc Deficiency
As with all vitamins and minerals, getting enough zinc on a daily basis is an important step in correcting a deficiency. Adult women need 8 milligrams per day, while the needs for adult men are slightly higher, at 11 milligrams daily.
You can make sure you're getting enough zinc in your diet by including a wide variety of foods that contain the mineral. Oysters are the biggest source, offering 74 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, but other sources include:
- Alaskan king crab
- Pork chops
- Baked beans
- Chicken (dark meat)
- Pumpkin seeds
If you suspect that a vitamin deficiency is to blame for your dry skin, check in with your doctor or another trusted health care provider before increasing your dietary intake too much or taking a supplement. Your doctor can order blood tests to confirm or rule out a deficiency and then design a specific treatment and nutrition plan based on those results.
- Mayo Clinic: "Keratosis Pilaris"
- Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: "Vitamin A and Skin Health"
- Merck Manuals: "Vitamin A"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin A"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin C"
- StatPearls: "Vitamin C Deficiency"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Hyperkeratosis"
- Nutrients: "The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health"
- The Australasian College of Dermatologists: "Zinc Deficiency and the Skin"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Zinc"
- Mayo Clinic: "Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)"