Dry skin is common. It can occur at any age and for many reasons. Using a moisturizer often helps repair dry skin.
Sometimes people need a dermatologist’s help to get relief from dry skin. Extremely dry skin can be a warning sign of a skin problem called dermatitis. Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. It can cause an itchy rash or patches of dry irritated skin. The earlier dermatitis is diagnosed and treated the better. Without treatment, dermatitis often gets worse.
Signs and symptoms.
The signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel) of dry skin are:
- Rough, scaly, or flaking skin.
- Gray, ashy skin in people with dark skin.
- Cracks in the skin, which may bleed if severe.
- Chapped or cracked lips.
When dry skin cracks, germs can get in through the skin. Once inside, germs can cause an infection. Red, sore spots on the skin may be an early sign of an infection.
Who gets dry skin and why?
Anyone can get dry skin. Skin becomes dry when it loses too much water or oil. Some people are more likely to have dry skin. Some causes of dry skin are:
- Age: As we age, our skin becomes thinner and drier. By our 40s, many people need to use a good moisturizer every day.
- Climate: Living in a dry climate such as a desert.
- Skin disease: People who had atopic dermatitis (also called eczema) as a child tend to have dry skin as adults. Psoriasis also causes very dry skin.
- Job: Nurses, hair stylists, and people in other occupations often immerse their skin in water throughout the day. This can cause the skin to become dry, raw, and cracked.
- Swimming: Some pools have high levels of chlorine, which can dry the skin.
Tips for managing.
Here are tips that can prevent dry skin or keep it from getting worse.
- Do not use hot water. Hot water removes your natural skin oils more quickly. Warm water is best for bathing.
- Use a gentle cleanser. Soaps can strip oils from the skin. Stop using deodorant bars, antibacterial soaps, perfumed soaps, and skin care products containing alcohol, like hand sanitizers. Look for either a mild, fragrance-free soap or a soap substitute that moisturizes.
- Limit time in the bathtub or shower. A 5- to 10-minute bath or shower adds moisture to the skin. Spending more time in the water often leaves your skin less hydrated than before you started. Do not bathe more often than once a day.
- Moisturize right after baths and showers. To lock in moisture from a bath or shower, apply a moisturizer while the skin is still damp.
- Before you shave, soften skin. It is best to shave right after bathing, when hairs are soft. To lessen the irritating effects of shaving your face or legs, use a shaving cream or gel. Leave the product on your skin about 3 minutes before starting to shave. Shave in the direction that the hair grows.
- Change razor blades after 5 to 7 shaves. A dull blade bothers dry skin.
- Use a humidifier. Keep the air in your home moist with a humidifier.
- Apply cool cloths to itchy dry skin.
- Soothe chapped lips. At bedtime, apply a lip balm that contains petrolatum. Other names for this ingredient are petroleum jelly and mineral oil.
- Cover up outdoors in winter. In the cold, wear a scarf and gloves to help prevent chapped lips and hands.
- Be good to your face. If you have very dry skin, cleanse your face just once a day, at night. In the morning, rinse your face with cool water.