What is dry skin?

Dry Skin
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Dry skin: Overview

Dry skin is a common problem, especially in areas where the air is very dry. Dry skin can also become a problem as you get older and lose natural oils that keep your skin moist.

A tendency toward dry, itchy skin may run in families. Some problems with the body's defenses (immune system), allergies, or an infection with a fungus may also cause patches of dry skin.

An over-the-counter cream may help your dry skin. If your skin problem does not get better with home treatment, your doctor may prescribe ointment. You may need antibiotics if you have a skin infection.

Preventing dry skin

Practice good skin hygiene to keep your skin healthy. Here are some tips:

  • Shower or bathe in lukewarm or warm water.

    Don't shower too often—just when you're dirty or sweaty, or no more than once a day. Wash your skin gently rather than scrubbing it.

  • Use a mild skin cleanser instead of soap.

    A skin cleanser can help protect your skin's natural moisture barrier. Examples include Aveeno, Dove, and Neutrogena.

  • Pat your skin dry after a bath or shower.

    Apply a moisturizer right away while your skin is still damp. Examples include Aquaphor, Eucerin, and Purpose.

  • Apply moisturizer several times a day.

    Moisturizer, such as a skin cream or ointment (petroleum jelly), protects your skin better than lotion.

  • Consider using a humidifier if the air inside your home is very dry. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • Protect your lips with a lip balm that contains petroleum jelly or mineral oil.

Part of good skin hygiene is also making sure your hands and feet don't get too dry. Take care of rashes or fungal infections, like athlete's foot. If they don't clear up with nonprescription medicines, see your doctor to prevent more serious skin problems.

How can you care for your dry skin?

Showers and baths

  • Keep showers and baths short, and use warm or lukewarm water. Don't use hot water. It takes off more of your skin's natural oils.
  • Choose a mild skin cleanser like Aquanil or Cetaphil.
  • If you are taking a bath, use a skin cleanser at the very end. Then rinse off with fresh water. Gently pat your skin dry with a towel.

Skin creams and moisturizers

  • Apply moisturizer or skin cream right away (within 3 minutes) after a bath or shower. Use a moisturizer at other times too, as often as you need it.
  • Moisturizing creams are better than lotions. Try brands like CeraVe cream, Cetaphil cream, or Eucerin cream.

Other tips

  • When washing clothes, use a small amount of detergent. Don't use fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
  • For small areas of itchy skin, try an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream.
  • If you have very dry hands, spread petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) on your hands before bed. Wear thin cotton gloves while you sleep. If your feet are dry, spread Vaseline on them and wear socks while you sleep.

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is a common problem that can occur at any age. When you have dry skin, your skin may be rough, or scaly or flaky, and it may itch.

There are many causes of dry skin. As you age, your skin produces less of the natural oil that helps your skin keep its moisture. Dry indoor air can cause your skin to become dry. So can living in climates with low humidity. Indoor heating or air conditioning can dry out the air inside your home. Bathing too often may also dry your skin, especially if you use hot water for your baths or showers.

Dry skin: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Pain, warmth, or swelling in the skin.
    • Red streaks near a wound in the skin.
    • Pus coming from a wound in your skin.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.