Xerosis Cutis

Written by Jacquelyn Cafasso
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Xerosis Cutis?

Xerosis cutis is the medical term for abnormally dry skin. This name comes from the Greek word “xero,” which means dry.

Dry skin is common, especially in the elderly. It is usually a minor and temporary problem, but may cause discomfort. Your skin needs moisture to stay smooth. As you age, retaining moisture in the skin becomes more difficult. Your skin may become dry and rough as it loses water and oils.

Dry skin is more common during the cold winter months. Modifying your daily routine by taking shorter showers with lukewarm water and by using moisturizers can help prevent xerosis cutis.

What Causes Xerosis Cutis?

Dry skin is linked to a decrease in the oils on the surface of the skin. It is usually triggered by environmental factors. The following activities or conditions may lead to dry skin:

  • over-cleansing or over-scrubbing the skin
  • taking baths or showers using excessively hot water
  • bathing too frequently
  • vigorous towel-drying
  • living in areas of low humidity
  • living in areas with cold, dry winters
  • using central heating in your home or workplace
  • not drinking enough water (dehydration)
  • extended sun exposure

Who Is at Risk for Xerosis Cutis?

Xerosis cutis is worse during the cold winter months when the air is very dry (low humidity).

Older people are more susceptible to developing the condition than younger people.

What Are the Symptoms of Xerosis Cutis?

Symptoms of xerosis cutis include:

  • skin that is dry, itchy, and scaly, especially on the arms and legs
  • skin that feels tight, especially after bathing
  • white, flaky skin
  • red or pink irritated skin
  • fine cracks on the skin

How Is Xerosis Cutis Treated?

At-Home Care

Treatment is aimed at relieving your symptoms. Treating dry skin at home includes regularly using moisturizers on the skin. Usually, an oil-based cream is more effective at holding in moisture than a water-based cream. Look for creams that contain the ingredients lactic acid or lactic acid and urea. A topical steroid medication, such as hydrocortisone one percent cream, can also be used if the skin is very itchy. Ask a pharmacist to recommend a moisturizing cream or product that will work for you.

When to See a Doctor

If your skin is oozing, has large areas that are peeling, has a ring-shaped rash, does not improve within a few weeks, or gets much worse despite treatment, see a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in disorders of the skin. You may have a fungal or bacterial infection, an allergy, or another skin condition. Excessive scratching of dry skin can also lead to an infection.

Dry skin in younger people may be caused by a condition called atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. Eczema is characterized by extremely dry, itchy skin. Blisters and hard, scaly skin is common in those with this condition. A dermatologist can help determine if you or your child has eczema.

How Can Xerosis Cutis Be Prevented?

Dry skin cannot always be prevented, especially as you age. However, you can help avoid or reduce the symptoms of xerosis cutis by simply modifying your daily routine.

  • Avoid bath or shower water that is too hot; try using lukewarm water.
  • Take shorter baths or showers.
  • Avoid excessive water exposure; do not spend extended amounts of time in a hot tub or pool.
  • Use gentle cleansers without any dyes, fragrances, or alcohol.
  • Pat the skin dry after a shower with a towel instead of rubbing the towel on your body.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Limit the use of soap on dry areas of skin and choose mild soaps with oil added.
  • Avoid scratching the affected area.
  • Use oil-based moisturizing lotions frequently, especially in the winter, and directly following a bath or shower. Eucerin and Cetaphil are two recommended brands.
  • Use a sunscreen when going outdoors.
  • Use a humidifier to increase the moisture of the air in your home.
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