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.
Practice good skin hygiene to keep your skin healthy. Here are some tips if you notice your skin getting too dry:
- Shower or bathe in lukewarm water. Don't shower too often—just when you're dirty or sweaty.
- Avoid washing with soap during every bath. When soap is needed, use a gentle, non-drying product, such as Aveeno, Dove, or Neutrogena. Use soap only on the underarms, groin, and feet, and rinse immediately afterward.
- Pat your skin dry after a bath or shower. Apply a moisturizer right away. Moisturizers include Aquaphor, Eucerin, and Purpose.
- Apply moisturizer several times a day. Use moisturizer on your hands, especially if you must wear gloves often or if the air is dry where you live.
- Consider using a humidifier if the air inside your home is very dry.
- Use sunscreen to protect your skin when you are outside.
- Protect your lips with lipstick or a lip balm, such as Chapstick.
Part of good skin hygiene is also making sure the skin between your fingers and toes doesn't get too dry or cracked. Take care of rashes or fungal infections, like athlete's foot. If they don't clear up with non-prescription medicines, see your doctor to prevent more serious skin problems.
In addition to the prevention guidelines, the following home treatment suggestions may help make you comfortable if you have dry skin.
- Look for a moisturizer that is a skin barrier repair moisturizer, like EpiCeram. Using this type of moisturizer can help heal dry skin.
- For very dry hands, try this for a night: Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly, and wear thin cotton gloves to bed. (Dry feet may benefit from similar treatment.)
- If dry, brittle nails are a problem, use lotion on your nails as well.
- Take care of your nails, keeping your fingernails and toenails trimmed and smooth. Long or sharp nails can accidentally scrape your skin.
Avoid scratching, which damages the skin. If itching is a problem, try the following:
- Keep the itchy area well moisturized. Dry skin may make itching worse.
- Add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your bath. Or you can try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.
- Try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for small itchy areas.
- Use the cream very sparingly on the face or genitals.
- If itching is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger cream.
- If you are using this cream for larger areas like your arms or legs, you may want to mix some of this cream with a moisturizer before putting it on your skin.
- Try a non-prescription oral antihistamine. Examples include chlorpheniramine (such as Chlor-Tripolon), diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), and loratadine (such as Claritin).
- Cut your nails short or wear gloves at night to prevent scratching.
- Wear loose and comfortable clothing. Avoid scratchy fabrics next to your skin.
When to Call a Doctor
Call your doctor if any of the following symptoms are present:
- You itch all over your body but there is no obvious cause or rash.
- Itching is so bad that you cannot sleep, and home treatment is not helping.
- Your skin is badly broken from scratching.
- You see signs of infection, including:
- Increased pain, swelling, redness, warmth, or tenderness.
- Red streaks extending from the area.
- Discharge of pus.
- Fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher with no other cause.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.
Current as of: October 31, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology