Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Dry Skin

What causes dry skin?

Skin protects itself and stays moist with oil made by glands in the skin. Soaps remove these oils and make the skin drier. Heat also causes the skin to lose moisture. You may find that your skin often gets dry and itchy in the winter from heated, dry indoor air. Some fabrics (such as wool), antiperspirants, perfumes, soaps, and hot baths can further irritate dry skin.

Dry skin is a common problem, especially in older people because of changes in the skin from aging. As you get older you lose sweat glands and oil glands.

Sometimes dry skin is a symptom of illness or a side effect of medicine.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Itching
  • Flaking
  • Peeling
  • Scaling

These symptoms may cause you to scratch your skin more. Scratching can irritate the skin and the skin may get infected. Signs that an area of skin may be infected are redness, swelling, pain, pus, or unusual warmth.

What should I do about dry skin?

Here are some things you can try:

  • Take short baths or showers no more than once a day. Use a mild moisturizing soap or nonsoap cleanser. Avoid long, hot baths. Hot water can increase itching. Pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Do not rub your skin dry.
  • Use unscented moisturizing creams or ointments, rather than water-based lotions. Moisturize your skin regularly, several times a day, if possible. Always use lotions after washing your hands or bathing. Helpful ingredients are petroleum jelly, lanolin, and glycerin. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist what you should use.
  • Avoid wearing rough fabrics that can irritate the skin, such as wool.
  • Always shower or bathe right away after getting out of a pool or spa that has chemicals in it.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the water container.
  • Drink enough liquids to keep your urine light yellow in color.
  • Protect your hands with gloves when you wash dishes, garden, or do chores.

If these suggestions do not improve your dry skin, talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider may do some tests or may refer you to a doctor who specializes in skin problems (a dermatologist).

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-14
Last reviewed: 2014-10-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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