Updated: 2019, Mar 18

Dry Skin: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Possible Complications & Treatment

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Dry Skin

What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin is a skin condition that is characterized by an insufficient amount of water in the topmost layer of the skin called epidermis.

Alternative Names

There are other terms that refer to dry skin. In medical terms, dry skin is called xerosis or xeroderma. Others call it winter itch.

What Are Signs And Symptoms of Dry Skin?

Itchiness is the chief symptom of dry skin. More often than not, people with dry skin find that they have red, flaky and rough patches that sometimes itch. Common affected areas of patches are arms, lower legs, hands, abdomen, soles and ankles. When skin dryness worsens, fissures and cracks may develop. Itchiness is one factor that worsens the degree of the severity of dryness, hence leading to “itch-scratch” cycle. This is marked by the person scratching the itchy body part in response, which results to the exacerbation of the itch. This is usually observed when there is zero conscious control of scratching, like during periods of sleep.

What Causes Dry Skin?

  • Aging: As we age, hormones undergo drastic changes and the skin become parched, thin and weary. There is no way to stop the clock from ticking. However, you can help your skin minimize the signs of aging by applying sunblock every day, even when indoors. At night, slather on night creams that contain retinol and alpha hydroxy acid. Also, be generous when applying lotion on your body and make sure every part is moisturized.
  • Winter Weather: During the winter season, the humidity (wetness in the atmosphere) drops down dramatically. Hence, leaving the air and the skin extremely dry. This results to people turning up their thermostat, which strips the skin its moisture further more. The best solution is to have a humidifier at home. Set it to a 45-55%, and keep the temperature at pleasant 20 degrees Celsius. Do not forget to protect yourself with gloves and scarfs when outdoors.
  • The Rub-Down: Scrubbing your skin strips its natural moisture, so keep it to a minimum. If your skin is already dry, toss the sponge and use washcloths or your good old hands.
  • Steamy Showers: Steamy showers are very soothing. However, the skin does not get as much benefit as the tired and achy muscles. The natural oils of the skin get dried out faster than the usual. So the longer you linger in a hot shower, the drier your skin gets. You can still enjoy steamy showers, but keep the temperate lukewarm and the bath short.
  • Losing Shower Moisture: A regular shower lavishes your skin with moisture, but toweling it off right afterward unrobes the same moisture. The skin absorbs some of the water, so it is highly suggested keeping the towel-dry off minimal. In effect, the skin still has some moist in it when you apply your favorite lotion as the dampness of the skin will seal the moisture, leaving your skin rich and hydrated. As for lotions for the very dry skin, look for ingredients such as ceramide, lactic acid, petrolatum, and dimethicone. The face requires a different type of moisturizing. Slather on a hypoallergenic moisturizer as this will not clog pores. It would also help a great deal if your face creams contain an SPF of at least 30.
  • Moisture-Robbing Soaps: Soaps are not all the same. There are abrasive soaps that will quickly strip your skin its moisture, and then there are mild soaps that clean and moisturize at the same time. Look for soaps that do not contain fragrance and specially formulated for dry to very dry skin.
  • Irritants: From fabric softeners to laundry detergents, down to fabrics and perfume, irritants are highly capable of drying and irritating the skin out. When shopping for such items, check if the label says fragrance-free and dye-free. Be wary if the products are recommended for sensitive skin. As for fabrics, silks and cottons favor dry skin the most as compared to polyester and wool.
  • Your Health: Very dry, red and scaly skin is sometimes the consequence of a skin condition such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. Dry skin is not a long-term condition, so consult a doctor to determine if you are suffering from a skin disease.

Who Gets Dry Skin?

Dry skin affects both males and females but is most predominantly typical among matured people. As we age, the natural oils in our skin slows down in their production, leaving our skin less moisturized. People whose jobs frequently expose them to hand washing are more prone to have dry skin.

Do Genetics Play A Role In Dry Skin?

Yes, dry skin might be influenced by a hereditary disorder called ichthyosis. The most common type is ichthyosis vulgaris, and this has signs of fishlike scales that are very dry. Atopic dermatitis is another skin condition that experts believe has a genetic element.

Possible Complications of Dry Skin

Secondary bacterial infection is the most common complication of dry skin. The severity of infection depends. It can be mild and resolves on its own, or it can go serious that necessitates for an antibiotic therapy. The “itch-scratch” cycle, as previously mentioned, can lead to serious, long-term complications. The skin becomes leathery and thick when rubbing and scratching of the skin is persistent and regular. Other symptoms include small, raised and red bumps appear. If the scratching continues, these spots can be opened, irritated and prone to infection.

Dry Skin Diagnosis

A physical exam can easily recognize dry skin. If the dry skin has familial roots, a thorough medical exam that includes family history can determine genetic affiliation. In severe cases, a skin biopsy will help rule out and specify the infection, and plan the treatment.

Treatment for Dry Skin

The best known treatment is regular hydration of the skin with ingredients that have a softening or soothing effect to the skin. After the other causes of dry skin have been identified, the goals of treatment include ending the itching, restore moisture of skin and prevent loss of water.

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