What is dry skin (xeroderma)?
When skin loses too much water, it becomes dry.
Self-care often heals dry skin
When the air contains little humidity, it’s common to develop dry skin. Many people who live in an area with low humidity, such as the Southwestern United States, get dry skin.
During the winter, indoor heating or cozying up to a fireplace can rob skin of moisture, making the skin dry and chapped. When low humidity causes dry skin, making some skincare changes can relieve and heal dry skin. Dermatologists recommend that you use plenty of moisturizers. Creams and ointments tend to work better than lotions. When you apply a cream or ointment to your skin, it can hold more moisture in your skin than a lotion.
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Dry skin relief can require a dermatologist’s help
With the right self-care, many people can heal xeroderma at home. When effective, you tend to see improvement within 2 weeks. If you continue to have dry skin or it worsens, something other than dry air may be causing your dry skin. Excessively dry skin can develop due to:
- An underlying medical condition, such as atopic dermatitis or kidney disease
- Medication you take
- What you touch throughout the day, such as certain foods
A dermatologist can diagnose what’s causing your xeroderma. If you have a condition that affects your skin, such as atopic dermatitis, your dermatologist can create a treatment plan for you. Treatment can help control the skin condition and relieve the dryness. Your dermatologist can also help you get relief from excessive xeroderma due to other causes.
Treating dry skin has health benefits
When you treat xeroderma, you can feel better. Treating dry skin may also cut your risk of developing another skin condition. Findings from a large German study suggest that people who live with dry skin may develop irritated skin or an allergic skin reaction. People over 60 years of age who have very dry skin may have an increased risk of developing a skin infection and bedsores.
What causes excessively dry skin?
When skin loses water too quickly, it becomes dry. This can happen for many reasons. Everyday things, such as using deodorant soaps and harsh cleaning products, can strip oils and fats from our skin. Taking long, hot showers can also dry your skin. Living in a cold, dry place dries the skin, too. You can often heal xeroderma by making some changes, which include moisturizing several times a day. When the skin continues to lose water and cannot heal itself, the skin can become excessively dry. Age, certain medications, and disease can also cause the skin to become excessively dry.
Who develops excessively dry skin?
Certain people have a higher risk of developing excessive xeroderma. If any of the following apply to you, you may. How many of the following apply?
- Middle age or older: With age, our skin produces less sebum, an oil that keeps skin soft and youthful. By your 40s, the amount of sebum your body makes drops dramatically. After 40, the amount of sebum your skin contains continues to drop.
- Black, brown, or fair skin: Research shows that people who have brown, black, or fair skin are more likely to develop very xeroderma than people who have a medium complexion, such as people who have Mediterranean ancestry.
- Certain medications: Extremely xeroderma is a possible side effect of several medications, including statins and diuretics.
- Wet work: A job that requires you to frequently put your hands in water throughout the day or use harsh chemicals that can strip your skin of its protective layer. Hairdressers, nurses, housekeepers, construction workers, cooks, florists, and metal workers often develop excessive xeroderma.
- Low outdoor temperature: When outdoor temperatures fall, the air holds less moisture. Research shows that this can lead to excessive xeroderma.
- Vitamin or mineral deficiency: Skin requires nutrients to keep it healthy. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, zinc, or iron, you can develop excessive xeroderma.
- Smoking: Cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that speed up how quickly your skin ages, so the skin becomes drier.
- A condition that affects the skin: Some conditions that affect the skin, including atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, perioral dermatitis, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis, can cause excessive xeroderma.
- Itchy skin condition: If you’ve had a skin condition that caused itchiness at some time in your life, you have a greater risk of developing excessive xeroderma. Many adults who had atopic dermatitis as a child lives with extremely dry skin.
- Diabetes, thyroid disease, or kidney disease: These conditions are known to cause excessive xeroderma.
- Dialysis: Kidney disease increases your risk of developing extreme xeroderma. When you receive dialysis, you have an even greater risk because dialysis removes water from your body. People receiving dialysis treatments also need to limit how much fluid they drink, consuming only 32 ounces a day. This can further dry your skin.
- Cancer treatment (current and past): If you’ve ever had chemotherapy, are receiving a cancer treatment called targeted therapy, or getting radiation treatments, you can develop extremely xeroderma.
- Anorexia: If you’re not eating enough, you’re not getting the nutrients your skin needs to stay hydrated.
- HIV positive: Excessively xeroderma is common in people who are HIV positive, even those on antiretroviral treatment (ART).
If you develop excessive xeroderma, dermatologists recommend treating it. Treatment can prevent the condition from worsening. Should the dry skin worsen, you can develop permanent side effects. Your skin can itch most of the time. Some people develop food allergies. It’s also possible to develop irritated skin every time you touch certain objects. You also have a higher risk of developing a serious skin infection.
If you have excessively dry skin, dermatologists recommend treatment. Without treatment, you have a greater risk of developing another skin condition, such as a skin infection. Long-term scratching can cause thick patches of permanently itchy skin. You also have a greater risk of developing food allergies or an allergic skin reaction. While an allergy or skin reaction can be treated, it cannot be cured.
How do dermatologists diagnose excessively dry skin?
Your dermatologist can often diagnose you by looking at your skin. To create a treatment plan that meets your needs, your dermatologist will also ask questions. Before your appointment, it’s helpful to make sure that you can answer the following questions:
- Have you (or any close blood relatives) had atopic dermatitis, asthma, hay fever, or food allergies?
- How long have you had excessively dry skin?
- What worsens your dry skin?
- What treatments have you tried?
This will help your dermatologist uncover what’s causing your excessively dry skin.
How do dermatologists treat excessively dry skin?
The goals of treatment are to:
- Soothe your skin by getting rid of the itch, pain, and other symptoms.
- Give your skin what it’s missing so that it can heal.
- Teach you how to prevent the dry skin from returning.
Because each patient has unique needs, you will receive a customized treatment plan, which may include:
- Moisturizer: Your dermatologist will select a moisturizer that contains the right amount of active ingredients, such as urea, ceramides, lactic acid, or glycerol, to heal your skin. The right mix will hydrate your skin and restore its outer layer. Some patients need a prescription moisturizer.
- Treatment for any underlying skin condition: Some common skin conditions can cause excessively dry skin, such as atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, or psoriasis. To heal dry skin, you need to treat the condition.
- Plan to help you protect your skin: Does your job require you to dip your hands in water several times a time? Do you work with cement? These and other activities can lead to excessively dry skin. To heal your skin, you need to protect your skin.
What is the outcome for someone who has excessively dry skin?
Researchers have found that when patients follow the prescribed treatment plan, most people see their skin heal. If you have trouble following your treatment plan, be sure to tell your dermatologist. To get relief and prevent worsening, it’s essential to follow the treatment plan.
Let your dermatologist know if you:
- Find it difficult to apply the moisturizer as often as necessary
- Cannot reach areas where you need to apply your moisturizer
- Have problems protecting your skin at work
Your dermatologist can work with you to develop a plan that you can follow. That’s important. To get relief, you need to treat excessively dry skin.
Simple tips soothe dry skin
Simple changes can soothe dry skin
Following the same skincare routine year-round may not work so well when the humidity drops. Without a change in your skincare, dry air can make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable. Dry, itchy skin can flake, crack, and even bleed. To help heal dry skin and prevent its return, dermatologists recommend the following.
- Stop baths and showers from worsening dry skin. When the humidity drops or your skin feels dry, be sure to:
- Close the bathroom door.
- Use warm rather than hot water.
- Limit your time in the shower or bath to 5 or 10 minutes.
- Wash with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser.
- Apply enough cleanser to remove dirt and oil, avoid using so much that you see a thick lather.
- Blot your skin gently dry with a towel.
- Slather on the moisturizer immediately after drying your skin.
- Apply moisturizer immediately after washing. Ointments, creams, and lotions (moisturizers) work by trapping existing moisture in your skin. To trap this much-needed moisture, you need to apply a moisturizer within a few minutes of:
- Drying off after a shower or bath
- Washing your face or hands
- Use an ointment or cream rather than a lotion. Ointments and creams are more effective and less irritating than lotions. Look for a cream or ointment that contains one or more of the following ingredients:
- Jojoba oil
- Hyaluronic acid
- Lactic acid
- Mineral oil
- Shea butter
- Wear lip balm. Choose a lip balm that feels good on your lips. If your lips sting or tingle after you apply the lip balm, switch to one that does not cause this reaction.
- Use only gentle, fragrance-free skincare products. Some skincare products, such as deodorant soaps, are too harsh for dry, sensitive skin. Dermatologists recommend using products labeled “fragrance-free.” If you see the word “unscented,” the product can contain chemicals that neutralize or hide the odors of other ingredients. These chemicals can irritate dry, sensitive skin.
- Wear gloves. Our hands are often the first place we notice dry skin. You can reduce dry, raw skin by putting on gloves before you:
- Go outdoors in winter.
- Perform tasks that require you to get your hands wet.
- Get chemicals, greases, and other substances on your hands.
- Choose non-irritating clothes and laundry detergent. When our skin is dry and raw even clothes and laundry detergent can be irritating. To avoid this:
- Wear cotton or silk under your clothing made of wool or another material that feels rough.
- Use laundry detergent labeled “hypoallergenic.”
- Stay warm without cozying up to a fireplace or other heat source. Sitting in front of an open flame or other heat sources can dry your skin.
- Add moisture to the air. Plug in a humidifier. If you can, check your home heating system to find out if you have a humidifier on the system — and whether it’s working.