Dry skin is a common issue that affects people of all ages, skin types, and backgrounds. While it may seem like a minor inconvenience, dry skin can be uncomfortable, and itchy, and even lead to more serious skin problems if left untreated. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of dry skin, its causes, symptoms, and effective management tips.

Understanding Dry Skin: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin, also known as xerosis[1] or xeroderma[2], is a condition where the skin lacks sufficient moisture and natural oils. This lack of hydration causes the skin to become rough, flaky, and sometimes itchy or cracked. Dry skin can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most commonly seen on the arms, legs, and face.

Common Causes of Dry Skin

Several factors can contribute to the development of dry skin, including:

  • 1. Environmental factors: Low humidity, harsh winds, and extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) can strip the skin of its natural moisture.
  • 2. Age: As we age, our skin’s ability to produce and retain moisture decreases, making it more susceptible to dryness.
  • 3. Frequent bathing or showering: Prolonged exposure to water, especially hot water, can remove the skin’s natural oils, leading to dryness.
  • 4. Harsh soaps and cleansers: Many traditional soaps and cleansers contain ingredients that can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing dryness.
  • 5. Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, can contribute to dry skin.
  • 6. Medications: Some medications, including diuretics, retinoids, and certain cancer treatments, can have drying effects on the skin.

Symptoms of Dry Skin

Symptoms of Dry Skin

Symptoms of Dry Skin. Shutterstock Image

The symptoms of dry skin can vary in severity, but generally include:

  • 1. Rough or flaky texture
  • 2. Itching or tightness
  • 3. Cracking or peeling
  • 4. Redness or irritation
  • 5. Dull or ashy appearance

In severe cases, dry skin can lead to deep cracks or fissures, increasing the risk of infection.

Effects of Untreated Dry Skin

If left untreated, dry skin can lead to several unpleasant and potentially harmful effects. Here are some of the common effects of untreated dry skin:

  • 1. Increased discomfort and itching: Dry skin can become extremely itchy, causing discomfort and the urge to scratch. Excessive scratching can further damage the skin, leading to rawness and even bleeding.
  • 2. Cracking and fissuring: When dry skin becomes severe, it can develop deep cracks or fissures. These cracks can be painful and increase the risk of infection, as they provide an entry point for bacteria and other pathogens.
  • 3. Infection: Open cracks or fissures in dry skin can become infected if not properly treated. This can lead to conditions like cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial skin infection. [3]
  • Eczema flare-ups: For those with eczema or atopic dermatitis, untreated dry skin can trigger or worsen flare-ups, leading to red, itchy, and inflamed patches of skin.
  • 4. Impaired skin barrier function: The outermost layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum, acts as a barrier against environmental factors and potential pathogens. Severe dryness can compromise this barrier, leaving the skin more vulnerable to irritants, allergens, and infections. [4]
  • 5. Skin aging: Chronic dry skin can contribute to premature aging of the skin, as it can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers, resulting in wrinkles and a loss of elasticity.
  • 6. Emotional distress: Severe dry skin can be unsightly and embarrassing, leading to self-consciousness and emotional distress, particularly if it affects visible areas like the face or hands.
  • 7. Disrupted sleep: The itching and discomfort associated with dry skin can interfere with sleep quality, leading to fatigue and other related issues.

It’s crucial to address dry skin promptly and consistently to avoid these potential effects. Proper moisturization, gentle skincare routines, and seeking medical advice for persistent or severe cases can help prevent and manage dry skin effectively.

Tips for Managing Dry Skin

diagnosis and treatment

Dry Skin – Diagnosis and Treatment. Shutterstock Image

While dry skin can be a persistent issue, there are several steps you can take to help manage and alleviate its symptoms:

  • 1. Moisturize regularly: Using a high-quality, fragrance-free moisturizer immediately after bathing or showering can help lock in moisture and prevent dryness. Look for moisturizers containing ingredients like ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid, which help to hydrate and repair the skin’s barrier.
  • 2. Limit bath and shower time: Prolonged exposure to water can strip the skin of its natural oils. Aim for shorter showers or baths, using lukewarm water instead of hot.
  • 3. Use gentle cleansers: Swap out harsh soaps and cleansers for milder, fragrance-free options that won’t strip the skin’s protective oils.
  • 4. Humidify your environment: Using a humidifier, especially during drier months or in arid climates, can help maintain optimal moisture levels in the air and prevent dryness.
  • 5. Wear protective clothing: In extreme weather conditions, cover up with protective clothing, such as gloves, scarves, and hats, to shield your skin from harsh elements.
  • 6. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water and consuming a balanced diet rich in essential fatty acids can help keep your skin hydrated from the inside out.
  • 7. Consider medical treatment: In cases of severe or persistent dry skin, your dermatologist may recommend prescription creams, ointments, or other treatments to alleviate dryness and address underlying conditions.


Dry skin is a common condition that can cause discomfort and, if left untreated, lead to more serious skin problems. By understanding the causes and symptoms of dry skin, and implementing effective management strategies, you can help maintain healthy, hydrated skin.

Remember, a consistent skincare routine tailored to your individual needs is key to managing and preventing dry skin. If you’re experiencing persistent or severe dryness, don’t hesitate to consult a dermatologist for professional guidance and treatment.

Was this article helpful?

4 Sources

We review published medical research in respected scientific journals to arrive at our conclusions about a product or health topic. This ensures the highest standard of scientific accuracy.

[1] Barco D, Giménez-Arnau A. Xerosis: una disfunción de la barrera epidérmica [Xerosis: a dysfunction of the epidermal barrier]. Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2008 Nov;99(9):671-82. Spanish. PMID: 19087805.
[2] Gade, Anita, et al. "StatPearls [Internet]." Xeroderma. StatPearls Publishing, 29 Oct. 2023,
[3] Brown, Brandon D. and Kristen L. Hood Watson. "StatPearls [Internet]." Cellulitis. StatPearls Publishing, 7 Aug. 2023,
[4] Kanwar AJ. Skin barrier function. Indian J Med Res. 2018 Jan;147(1):117–8. doi: 10.4103/0971-5916.232013. PMCID: PMC5967208.
Facebook linkedin

MaryBeth Parisi, MD

Dr. MaryBeth Parisi is a board-certified Harvard trained Dermatologist. She has over 18 years of experience in the field of skin care.