Ordinarily, dry skin (xerosis) is not serious, but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly, turning plump cells into shriveled ones and creating fine lines and wrinkles.
Serious dry skin conditions — an inherited group of disorders called ichthyosis — can sometimes be disfiguring, causing psychological distress. Fortunately, most dry skin results from environmental factors that can be wholly or partially controlled.
These include exposure to hot or cold weather with low humidity levels and excessive bathing. Chronic or severe dry skin problems may require a dermatologist’s evaluation. But first you can do a lot on your own to improve your skin, including using moisturisers, bathing less and avoiding harsh, drying soaps.
Dry skin is often just a temporary problem — one you experience only in winter, for example — but it may be a lifelong concern. And although skin is often driest on your arms, lower legs and the sides of your abdomen, this pattern can vary considerably from person to person.
Signs and symptoms of dry skin depend on your age, your health status, your locale, the amount of time you spend outdoors, and the cause of the problem.
If you have dry skin, you are likely to experience one or more of the following:
* A feeling of skin tightness, especially after showering, bathing or swimming
* Skin that appears shrunken or dehydrated
* Skin that feels and looks rough rather than smooth
* Itching (pruritus) that sometimes may be intense
* Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
* Fine lines or cracks
* Deep fissures that may bleed in severe cases
When to see a doctor
Most cases of dry skin respond well to lifestyle and home remedies. See your doctor if:
* Your skin does not improve in spite of your best efforts
* Dry skin is accompanied by redness
* Dryness and itching interfere with sleeping
* You have open sores or infections from scratching
* You have large areas of scaling or peeling skin
Though most cases of dry skin are caused by environmental exposures, certain diseases also can significantly alter the function and appearance of your skin. Potential causes of dry skin include weather, central heating and air conditioning, hot baths and showers, harsh soaps and detergents, sun exposure, Psoriasis, thyroid disorders etc.
Dry skin that is not cared for can lead to diseases like Atopic dermatitis (eczema), Folliculitis and Cellulitis.
Treatments and drugs
In most cases, dry skin problems respond well to home and lifestyle measures, such as using moisturisers and avoiding long, hot showers and baths.
If home lifestyle and remedies do not work well or your condition is serious, you may consult a dermatologist to get the appropriate treatment.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although it may not be possible to achieve flawless skin, the following measures can help keep your skin moist and healthy:
* Moisturise your skin. Moisturisers provide a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping. Thicker moisturisers work best. You may also want to use cosmetics that contain moisturisers.
If your skin is extremely dry, you may want to apply an oil, such as baby oil, while your skin is still moist. Oil has more staying power than moisturisers do and prevents the evaporation of water from the surface of your skin.
* Use warm water and limit bath time. Hot water and long showers or baths remove oils from your skin. Limit your bath or shower time to about 15 minutes or less, and use warm, rather than hot, water.
* Avoid harsh, drying soaps. If you have dry skin, it is best to use cleansing creams or gentle skin cleansers and bath or shower gels with added moisturisers. Choose mild soaps that have added oils and fats.
Avoid deodorant and antibacterial detergents, which are especially harsh. You might want to experiment with several brands until you find one that works particularly well for you. A good rule of thumb is that your skin should feel soft and smooth after cleansing, never tight or dry.
* Apply moisturisers immediately after bathing. After washing or bathing, gently pat or blot your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains on the skin. Immediately moisturise your skin with an oil or cream to help trap water in the surface cells.
* Use a humidifier. Hot, dry indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. A portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace adds moisture to the air inside your home. Portable humidifiers come in many varieties. Choose one that meets your budget and any special needs. And be sure to keep your humidifier clean to ward off bacteria and fungi.
* Choose fabrics that are kind to your skin. Natural fibers such as cotton and silk allow your skin to breathe. But wool, although it certainly qualifies as natural, can irritate even normal skin. When you wash your clothes, try to use detergents without dyes or perfumes, both of which can irritate your skin.
If dry skin causes itching, apply cool compresses to the area. To reduce inflammation, use a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream or ointment, containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone.
If these measures do not relieve your symptoms or if your symptoms worsen, see your doctor or consult a dermatologist.