Dry Skin

What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin is a relatively common ailment that can be very uncomfortable. It occurs when the skin is unable to retain sufficient moisture to keep itself healthy. Some patients have skin that is naturally dry, but even skin that is excessively oily can dry out on occasion. The condition can affect anyone at any age, although older adults are generally more prone to it due to their skin naturally beginning to produce less oil. Certain environments also create conditions favorable to dry skin, such as cold winter months and arid climates.

When lifestyle changes do not improve dry skin, it is often a sign of an underlying medical issue. Extremely dry skin is called dermatitis.


  • Allergic dermatitis, which is essentially an allergic reaction
  • Atopic dermatitis, a long-term condition that is often hereditary
  • Contact dermatitis, which results from exposure to irritating chemicals
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, occurring from too much oil production in the skin

What are the Symptoms of Dry Skin?

Dry skin can either be temporary or lifelong. Symptoms vary depending on the cause, and they can be severe or mild.

Symptoms include

  • Tight skin
  • Rough skin
  • Flaking
  • Peeling
  • Scaling
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Cracks that may bleed
  • Fine lines
  • Ashy gray skin (people with dark skin)

Dry Skin Causes

Dry skin can be caused by a number of different conditions, some of which include harsh soaps and detergents (which typically remove oil), heat (which reduces humidity), hot showers and baths (long ones especially), swimming frequently in chlorinated pools, and skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema (dermatitis). When the winter weather hits, it tends to cause dry skin because humidity levels plunge. Fireplaces, central heating, space heaters and wood-burning stoves can cause dry skin.

Medical conditions that cause dry skin are hypothyroidism (and primary hypothyroidism), ichthyosis vulgaris, toxic megacolon, anorexia nervosa, dehydration, diabetes insipidus, cholera, Sjogren’s Syndrome, ulcers, dissection of the aorta, and Hashimoto’s disease. Corns, calluses and burns of any kind can also cause dry skin once healing begins.

How is Dry Skin Treated?

In many cases, simple lifestyle changes can treat or prevent dry skin. Some people benefit from showering every other day instead of every day, since washing too much can remove essential oils needed to maintain skin moisture. Showing in water that is too hot can result in dry skin for the same reason. Adding moisturizing soap and lotion to one’s bathing routine can help greatly, as can using a humidifier and staying hydrated.

For people with dermatitis, medical treatment is needed to prevent it from becoming worse. Depending on severity and cause, this may include the use of hydrocortisone cream, oral antihistamines, corticosteroid injections or pills, or antibiotics for secondary infections.

Dry Skin Prevention

Preventing dry skin can easily be accomplished during shower or bath time by limiting your wash time to 5 to 10 minutes, keeping the bathroom door closed, using warm – not hot – water, and using a gentle, cleansing soap. Avoid using so much soap that a thick lather develops. Afterwards, instead of rubbing your skin dry, try blotting it dry with your towel. Be sure to use plenty of moisturizer after your bath or try using a body wash with moisturizer added.

Avoid using skin care products with harsh chemicals or ingredients such as fragrances, alcohols, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), or retinoids. Retaining your skin’s natural oils is the best way to prevent dry skin. Protecting your skin from harsh detergents by choosing one that’s hypoallergenic is equally important.

In the wintertime, protect your hands from the harsh cold weather by wearing gloves. Anytime your hands might get wet, using gloves might be best, such as when washing dishes. Avoid any other type of grease or harsh chemical agents coming into contact with your bare skin.

Using a humidifier puts moisture into the air and can help with dry skin.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 15, 2017