Dry skin is a common condition in which skin cracks and peels off due to loss of moisture (liquids in skin).
Dry skin is also called:
It affects scalp, arms, legs, flanks, thighs and knuckles commonly. Luckily, most cases can be managed easily by moisturizers and emollients. However some may need expert advice, especially extremely dry skin that can be a warning sign of an underlying disease condition.
Difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin
Before getting into the detailed causes and treatment of dry skin, it’s important to understand the difference between dry and dehydrated skin.
Dry skin is the condition in which the sufficient amount of oil is lacking from the skin.
Dehydrated skin is the one that lacks sufficient water in it.
Also, skin can be both dry and dehydrated at the same time, while an oily skin can only be dehydrated. Dry skin is lacking oil in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin, and would lose water too as that barrier would be missing.
Common symptoms of both dry and dehydrated skin include:
A feeling of tautness or tightness of skin
Inflammation, irritation, itching and sensitivity of the skin
Rough feel and look
Flaking and scaling that can be mild to severe
Severe redness, fine lines or cracks that bleed too sometimes
Therefore it’s sometimes confusing for the patient to understand if the condition is dry skin or dehydrated skin since the cause is not obvious to them to infer the outcome of it.
Causes of dry skin
Most cases of xerosis are due to environmental factors, however there can be an underlying disease condition causing it too.
Common causes of dry skin include:
Extreme weather – resulting in low humidity
Winters – a combination of dry air and blasting the heat can cause dry skin
Summers – in desert regions there is a lot of heat but very low humidity and can result in xeroderma
Heat – direct heat from burning stoves, central heating, space heaters, fire, etc. reduces the humidity too and dries your skin
Long, hot baths and showers – taking long and hot baths or showers can result in dry skin
Swimming in chlorinated water – frequent and lengthy swimming in chlorinated swimming pools can result in xerodermia
Direct sun exposure – can damage and dry your skin. The ultraviolet waves coming along sun light penetrates to the deeper layers of the skin and results in loose and sagging skin with wrinkles
Strong and harsh soaps and detergents – most popular and commonly available detergent and antibacterial soaps damage our skin a lot. They not only kill helpful bacteria on the skin, giving space to the dangerous ones to breed as well as making place for fungal infections, but also end up damaging the skin and resulting in dry skin condition
Several shampoos – can also cause dry scalp skin
Itchy and abrasive clothing
Body changes and diseases – several body changes and various diseases can result in skin being prone of xerosis, like:
Old age – almost 75% of the people of age 65+ suffer from dry skin
Genetics – family history is important in dry skin condition
Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid gland
Malnutrition – due to any cause including some eating disorders
Skin diseases and conditions – several skin conditions cause or aggravate dry skin, including:
Psoriasis – a skin condition marked by buildup of dry, rough dead skin cells rapidly, forming thick scales, can lead to xeroderma
Eczema – atopic dermatitis patients are also prone to dry skin condition
Vitamin deficiencies – Vitamin A and vitamin D usually
There are various other causes leading to dry skin too. Dry skin treatment depends upon the underlying cause.
Remember that while a lot of diseases cause dry skin, not all people with dry skin have any serious underlying cause. Therefore, don’t use drugs and medicines for the treatment without consulting a doctor to discuss the best treatment specific to your condition.
Dry skin treatment and drugs
Most important part of the treatment of dry skin to identify the factor causing the condition. Mostly the issues are related to water (hot water baths, swimming, etc.) and chemicals as discussed above, that result in the removal of protective outer oily layer, resulting in dry skin.
Tips to prevent and treat dry skin
Home remedies and tips to prevent and treat dry skin include:
Don’t take long hot baths, keep them less than 10 minutes in 24 hours
Use mild soaps and shampoos instead of strong and potent ones, preferably unscented and the ones produced for sensitive skin are usually safer
Use soap minimally
Wear gloves when washing dishes or clothes to avoid aggressive chemicals and detergents
Apply bath oil after shower, but don’t add it to the bath water though as oil and water don’t mix
Apply moisturizer after taking hot shower
Apply moisturizer throughout the day whenever you’re suspecting dry skin, before it sets in
If you’re having any underlying disorder that’s related to dry skin, get that diagnosed and managed accordingly by the doctor.
Dry skin drugs and medication
Remember not to self medicate. Always consult an expert before using any drug for dry skin or any other condition.
Medicines are mainly used to manage the conditions associated with dry skin, that may be causing or aggravating this condition.
Various medications used for dry skin related diseases include:
Topic steroids (cortisone) – used to treat various eczematous (red) dermatitis
Over the counter ones are helpful too, but prescription formulations are sometimes required to treat severe conditions
Get an opinion from dermatologist even before using over the counter steroids too
Understand and discuss carefully when, where and for how long the steroid has to be applied
Understand and discuss with your doctor about when NOT to apply the steroid, as even the mild formulations have their own side effects
Anti inflammatory and anti-itching lotions or creams, e.g.:
Remember not to use drugs and medicines on your own without consulting with your doctor.
When to seek medical advice for dry skin treatment?
If you’re experiencing dry skin that’s not too extreme, try humidifiers and moisturizers and see if they help. Also try changing the soap and/or shampoo, not using extremely hot water for bathing, and try using remedies for dry skin condition for around 2 weeks.
If the condition don’t settle down in 2 weeks or gets worse even before 2 weeks, consult a dermatologist immediately to get it diagnosed and see which treatment or drug is best for your condition.
If you’re experiencing extremely dry skin with complications, don’t wait for weeks trying remedies, rather consult a doctor immediately. This includes conditions and symptoms like:
Sudden onset of dry skin condition
Dry skin with conditions like:
Cracking of skin
Bleeding from the skin
Oozing of any liquid from the skin
Sudden itching or irritation of the skin
Developing dry skin while you’re suffering from any other medical condition like:
Any other related disorder
If unsure, consult a doctor then too to prevent any complication or to delay a diagnosis of some potentially damaging disease.