Dry skin occurs when the moisture, or water, content of the skin is decreased for any reason.
The surface of the skin holds a certain amount of water. When the water content decreases, the skin becomes dry, itchy, and uncomfortable.
Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to dry skin. As people age, their skin tends to become drier. Dry air, resulting from winter's low humidity and the use of indoor heat, can cause skin to dry out. Long, hot baths and showers can also make skin dry.
Dry skin may cause other symptoms, such as:
Individuals with dry skin can diagnose the condition themselves based on their symptoms. If the condition persists or worsens, a healthcare provider may be consulted to rule out more serious skin disorders.
People subject to dry skin should soak thoroughly while bathing or showering. However, they should limit the amount of soap they use and the length of time they're exposed to the water. Some people may be able to use mild, moisturizing soap all over the body. A few need to limit soap use to the underarms and genitalia.
After patting skin dry with a towel, the individual should apply a moisturizer. Two types of moisturizers are available over-the-counter:
The healthcare provider may also prescribe creams containing alpha hydroxy acids or urea to get rid of dead skin and minimize itching.
If dry skin is severe enough and remains untreated, it can lead to eczema.
Dry skin is not contagious and poses no risk to others.
Dry skin is treated the same way it is prevented, following the guidelines for bathing and using moisturizers.
There are no side effects to treatment, unless an individual is allergic to moisturizers. Those individuals should choose unscented or hypoallergenic moisturizers.
Moisturizer should be applied to the skin on a regular basis as needed. This will help prevent symptoms from returning.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Lynn West, MD
Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN