Dry skin occurs when your skin loses too much water and oil. Dry skin is common and can affect anyone at any age. The medical term for dry skin is xerosis.
Dry skin can be caused by:
- The climate, such as cold, dry winter air or hot, dry desert environments
- Dry indoor air from heating or cooling systems
- Bathing too often or too long
- Some soaps and detergents
- Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
- Diseases, such as diabetes, underactive thyroid, Sjögren syndrome, among others
- Certain medicines (both topical and oral)
- Aging, during which skin gets thinner and produces less natural oil
Your skin may get dry, scaly, itchy, and red. You may also have fine cracks on the skin.
The problem is usually worse on the arms and legs.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will examine your skin. You'll be asked about your health history and skin symptoms.
If the provider suspects the dry skin is caused by a health problem that hasn't been diagnosed yet, tests will likely be ordered.
Your provider may suggest home care measures, including:
- Moisturizers, especially creams or lotions that contain urea and lactic acid
- Topical steroids for areas that get very inflamed and itchy
If your dry skin is from a health problem, you'll likely be treated for it as well.
To prevent dry skin:
- Do not expose your skin to water more often than needed.
- Use lukewarm bath water. Afterward, pat the skin dry with the towel instead of rubbing.
- Choose gentle skin cleansers that are free from dyes and perfumes.
Xerosis; Asteatotic eczema; Eczema craquele
American Academy of Dermatology. Dry skin. www.aad.org/public/diseases/dry-sweaty-skin/dry-skin#overview. Accessed December 17, 2018.
Coulson I. Xerosis. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson IH, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2018:chap 258.
Pierwola KK, Patel GA, Lambert WC, Schwartz RA. Skin disease and old age. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Young J, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2017:chap 94.
Review Date 10/8/2018
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.