Dry skin isn’t usually serious, but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly. Serious dry skin conditions — an inherited group of disorders called ichthyosis — can sometimes be disfiguring and upsetting. Fortunately, the most severe dry skin is caused by environmental factors that can be at least partially controlled. In short, these factors include hot or cold weather, low humidity, and soaking too long in hot water.
Furthermore, you can do a lot on your own to improve your skin, including using moisturizers and avoiding harsh, drying soaps. Treating severe skin conditions may require evaluation by a dermatologist.
Dry skin is often temporary. You can get it only in winter, for example, but it may be a lifelong condition. Also, signs and symptoms of the condition depend on your age, your health, where you live, the time spent outdoors, and the cause of the problem. Consequently, it is likely to be caused by one or more of the following:
- A feeling of skin tightness, especially after showering, bathing, or swimming
- Skin that feels and looks rough
- Itching (pruritus)
- Slight to severe flaking, scaling, or peeling
- Fine lines or cracks
- Gray and ashy skin
- Deep cracks that may bleed
When To See Your Dermatologist?
Most Cases Respond Well To Lifestyle And Home Remedies. See your Dermatologist/Doctor if:
- Your skin doesn’t improve in spite of your best efforts
- Dry skin is accompanied by redness
- Dryness and itching interfere with sleeping
- You have open sores or infections from scratching
- You have large areas of scaling or peeling skin
- Dry skin (xerosis) often has an environmental cause. Certain diseases can also significantly affect your skin. Potential Causes Include:
- Heat. Central heating, wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces all reduce humidity and dry your skin.
- Hot baths and showers. Taking long, hot showers or baths can dry your skin. So can frequent swimming, particularly in heavily chlorinated pools.
- Harsh soaps and detergents. Many popular soaps, detergents, and shampoos strip moisture from your skin as they are formulated to remove oil.
Note: People with skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) or psoriasis are prone to dry skin.
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Anyone Can Develop Dry Skin. However, You May Be More Likely To Develop The Condition If You:
- Are you in your 40s or older? The risk increases with age — more than 50 percent of older adults have dry skin.
- Live in dry, cold, or low-humidity climates.
- Have a job that requires you to immerse your skin in water, such as nursing and hairstyling.
- Swim frequently in chlorinated pools.
Dry Skin Is Usually Harmless. But When It’s Not Cared For, It May Lead To:
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema). If you’re prone to developing this condition, excessive dryness can lead to activation of the disease, causing redness, cracking, and inflammation.
- Infections. Dry skin may crack, allowing bacteria to enter and causing infections.
Also, these complications are most likely to occur when your skin’s normal protective mechanisms are severely compromised. For example, severely dry skin can cause deep cracks or fissures, which can open and bleed, providing an avenue for invading bacteria.
Try These Tips To Keep Skin From Getting Excessively Dry:
- Moisturize. Moisturizer seals skin to keep water from escaping.
- Limit water exposure. Keep your bath and shower time up to 10 minutes or less. Turn the dial to warm, not hot. Try to bathe no more than once a day.
- Skip the dry soap. Try cleansing creams, gentle skin cleansers, and shower gels with added moisturizers.
- Cover as much skin as possible in cold weather. Winter can be especially dry to the skin, so be sure to wear a scarf, hat, and gloves when you go out.
- Wear rubber gloves. If you have to immerse your hands in water or are using harsh cleansers, wearing gloves can help protect your skin.
Diagnosis of Your Dry Skin Condition
Your dermatologist is likely to conduct a physical exam and ask about your medical history, including when your condition is, what factors make it better or worse, your bathing habits, your diet, and how you care for your skin.
Also, your doctor may suggest certain diagnostic tests to check whether your dry skin is the result of an underlying medical condition, such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
In most cases, your skin responds well to lifestyle measures, such as using moisturizers and avoiding long, hot showers and baths. If you have very dry and scaly skin, your doctor may recommend you use an over-the-counter (nonprescription) cream that contains lactic acid or lactic acid and urea.
If you have a more serious skin disease, such as atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, or psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe prescription creams and ointments or other treatments in addition to home care.
Sometimes dry skin leads to dermatitis, which causes red, itchy skin. In these cases, treatment may include hydrocortisone-containing lotions. If your skin cracks open, your doctor may prescribe wet dressings to help prevent infection.
Your Lifestyle And Some Home Remedies
The Following Measures Can Help Keep Your Skin Moist And Healthy:
- Moisturize. Moisturizers provide a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping. Apply moisturizer several times a day and after bathing. Thicker moisturizers work best, such as over-the-counter brands Eucerin and Cetaphil.
- Cosmetics. You may also want to use cosmetics that contain moisturizers. If your skin is extremely dry, you may want to apply an oil, such as baby oil, while your skin is still moist. Oil has more staying power than moisturizers do and prevents the evaporation of water from the surface of your skin.
- Ointments. Another possibility is ointments that contain petroleum jelly (Vaseline, Aquaphor). These may feel greasy, so you might want to use them only at night.
- Use warm water and limit bath time. Long hot showers or baths remove oil from your skin. Limit your bath or shower to five to 10 minutes and use warm, not hot, water.
- Avoid harsh, dry soaps. It’s best to use cleansing creams or gentle skin cleansers and bath or shower gels with added moisturizers. Therefore, choose mild soaps that have added oils and fats. Avoid deodorant and antibacterial detergents, fragrances, and alcohol.
- Apply moisturizers immediately after bathing. Gently pat your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains. Also, immediately moisturize your skin with an oil or cream to help trap water in the surface cells.
- Use a humidifier. Hot, dry, indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. A portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace adds moisture to the air inside your home. Also, be sure to keep your humidifier clean to ward off bacteria and fungi.
- Choose fabrics that are kind to your skin. Natural fibers, such as cotton and silk, allow your skin to breathe. But wool, although natural, can irritate even normal skin. Wash your clothes with detergents without dyes or perfumes, both of which can irritate your skin. These products may be labeled as “free.”