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Dry Skin

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is a very common skin condition. It can make your skin feel irritated and itchy. Dry skin often worsens in the winter when the air is cold and dry. Frequent bathing also makes it worse. With no treatment, dry skin may become flaky or scaly.

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin occurs when skin loses too much moisture. Skin thins with age. So, older adults often have dry skin. Other causes of dry skin include:

  • Living in a dry, desert climates
  • Swimming
  • Jobs that require frequent hand washing
  • Frequent bathing
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis
  • Cold air
  • Hot water

What are the symptoms of dry skin?

Dry skin can affect people differently. Dry skin may present like:

  • Rough skin that is scaly or flaky
  • Mild to moderate itching
  • Cracking skin that may bleed
  • Chapped or cracked lips

How is dry skin diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose dry skin my examining your skin. He or she may also ask about your medical history and your daily habits. If your doctor thinks your dry skin may be due to an underlying health problem, he or she may do other tests.

How is dry skin treated?

Bathing less often can help improve dry skin. And when you do bathe or shower, don’t use hot water. Using ointments, lotions, or creams that keep the moisture in also help.

 Apply moisturizers right away after bathing or showering. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a product that contains petrolatum or lanolin. 

 Also:

  • Avoid harsh soaps, detergents, and perfumes, which tend to dry the skin
  • Avoid rubbing or scratching the skin, which can aggravate the symptoms and cause infection
  • Apply a salicylic acid solution or creams for scaly skin (this removes the top layer of skin)

Consider using a humidifier in your home.  If dry skin isn’t helped with these treatments, your doctor may prescribe a prescription medicine to apply to your skin. 

When to seek medical care

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have itching without a visible rash
  • The itching and dryness are so bad you can't sleep
  • You have scratched so hard that you have open cuts or sores 
  • Home remedies have not relieved the dryness and itching

Key points

  • Dry skin is a very common skin condition. It can make your skin feel irritated and itchy.
  • Keep moisture in skin by taking fewer baths and applying ointments or creams.
  • If dry skin does not improve with home remedies, or appears to be infected, consult with your health care provider.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Dry Skin - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Jones, Niya, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2013-11-08T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2015-11-08T00:00:00
Published Date: 2015-11-08T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2016 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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