Dry Skin

1 What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin, although not a serious condition, can be uncomfortable and unattractive, creating fine lines and wrinkles.

Serious dry skin conditions - an inhereted group of disorders called ichthyosis - can sometimes be disfiguring and upsetting.

Factors such as hot or cold weather, low humidity and saoking in hot water can cause dry skin.

Chronic or severe dry skin may require evaluation by a skin specialist ( Dermatologist).

Using moisturizers and avoiding harsh, drying soaps can help to relieve the symptoms od dry skin.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of dry skin include:

  • A feeling of tightness, especially after a shower, bath or swim
  • Ichy skin (pruiritis)
  • Skin that feels and looks rough
  • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
  • Fine lines or cracks  
  • Gray, ashy skin in people with dark skin
  • Redness  
  • Deep cracks that may bleed    

Dry skin is usually a temporary condition. For example, some people get dry skin only in winters. Howevere, some people may have dry skin throughout their whole life.

Although skin is driest on the arms and lower legs, this may vary from person to person. The signs and symptoms may also depending on age, health, where a person lives, amount of skin spent outdoors and the cause of the problem.                                                             

3 Causes

The causes of dry skin include:

  • Weather including winters when temperature and humidity levels plummet and weather in desret regions where temperatures can soar, but humidity levels remains low.
  • Heat from central heating, wood-burning stoves, space heaters and fireplaces which reduce humidity and dry the skin.
  • Taking long, hot showers or baths and swimming in heavily chlorinated pools.
  • Certain soaps, detergents and shampoos.
  • Exposure to the sun can dry the skin and it's ultraviolet radiation penetrates far beyound the top layer of the skin. This can lead to damage that occurs deeper, causing deep wrinkles and loose, sagging skin.
  • Other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) or a skin conditions marked by a rapid buildup of rough, dry, dead skin cells that form thick scales (psoriasis).

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of dry skin is done by performing several tests.

A physical exam and a medical history including when a patient first had dry skin, bathing habits, diet and how a person takes care of the skin may help doctors to diagnose dry skin.

Other tests can be carried out if a doctor suspects other underlying conditions such as hypothyroidism.

5 Treatment

Using moisturizers and avoiding long, hot showers and baths can be effective in the treatment of dry skin.

Over-the-counter creams containing lactic acid or lactic acid and urea can be recommende for very dry and scaly skin.

Prescription creams and ointments are needed for severe cases of dry skin, such as atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis or psoriasis.

If dry skin leads to dermatitis, treatment may include hydrocortisone-containing lotions.

Wet dressings may be required in cases of cracked skin to prevent infection.

6 Lifestyle and Coping

The following lifestyle modifications can help in coping with dry skin, also keep the skin moisturized and healthy:

  • Applying moisturizer several times a day to keep water from escaping from the skin. Thicker moisturizers, such as Eucerin and Cetaphil work best.
  • Applying an oil, such as baby oil if the skin is extremely dry. Ointments containing petroleum jelly (Vaseline, Aquaphor) may also be used.
  • Using warm water instead of hot water and limiting the bath or shower to five to ten minutes.
  • Avoiding harsh, drying soaps and deodorant and antibacterial detergents, fragrance and alcohol.
  • Applying moisturizers immediately after bathing to help trap water in the surface cells.
  • Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air indoors.
  • Choosing fibers, such as cotton and silk, that allow the skin to breathe. It is also important to wash clothes with detergents that do not contain dyes or perfumes which can irritate the skin.
  • Applying cool compresses if dry skin causes itching.
  • Using nonprescription hydrocortisone cream or ointment, containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation.

7 Risks and Complications

The factors that may increase the risk of having dry skin include:

  • Being older than 40
  • Living in a dry, cold or low-humidity climates
  • Having a job that requires a person to immerse the skin in water, such as nurses and hairstylists
  • Swimming frequently in heavily chlorinated pools

Complications associated with dry skin usually occur when tyhe skin's protective mechanisms are secerely compromised.

Dry skin can lead to:

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Infections due to cracks on the skin.