What causes dry skin? 19 possible conditions
Dry skin is an uncomfortable condition marked by scaling, itching, and cracking. It can occur for a variety of reasons. Some people have naturally dry skin and may experience frequent symptoms. However, even the oiliest skin can get dry at times.
Skin dryness can occur on any part of the body, but it is most common on the legs, arms, and abdominal area. If lifestyle changes fail to improve your symptoms, you should contact a doctor for a medical evaluation.
Dry skin that does not improve with lifestyle remedies may be a result of an underlying medical condition. Dermatitis is the medical term for extremely dry skin. The four types of dermatitis are:
Allergic dermatitis occurs when an allergic reaction to certain substances causes rashes on the skin. Also known as eczema, this type of dermatitis leads to red, itchy skin that can also be scaly. The dry skin tends to get worse when you are exposed to an allergen, such as dust, pet dander, or pollen.
Atopic dermatitis is a long-term skin condition that results in extremely dry skin. It is often hereditary.
Contact dermatitis occurs if you are exposed to an irritating chemical agent. In this case, the skin immediately becomes inflamed for example poison oak.
Seborrheic dermatitis occurs when your skin produces too much oil. It results in a red and scaly rash, usually on the scalp. This type of dermatitis is common in infants.
The elderly are more likely to develop dry skin. As you age, your pores naturally produce less oil. Dry skin is also more common during the fall and winter months, when the relative humidity levels are low. Humidity adds moisture in the air, which helps prevent your skin from drying out. Many people experience dryer skin during these times of low humidity, compared to in the summer, when humidity levels are usually high. Taking frequent baths also raises your risk of having dry skin. Still, dry skin can affect anyone at any age, and during any time of the year.
A dermatologist generally treats dermatitis. Along with lifestyle remedies, your doctor will likely prescribe ointments to help treat your dry skin. It is important to reduce the itchiness you experience, in order to lower your risk of infection. If you have any open sores from scratching, you may be given a prescription antibiotic.
Certain simple lifestyle changes can help prevent you from developing dry skin. Try to:
- shower every other day
- keep your bathing time to between five and 10 minutes
- avoid hot showers
- use a moisturizing soap
- avoid scrubbing dry skin patches
- pat your skin dry with a soft towel
- use a moisturizer immediately after showering
- use a humidifier in the home
- drink plenty of water
It is also important to choose the right kind of moisturizer for your skin type. Lotions that contain grape seed oil and antioxidants can help trap water in the skin. If your skin is extremely dry, look for a petrolatum-based product. You might consider switching to a lighter lotion—such as one that is water-based—during the summer months if your skin becomes oilier during that time of year.
Occasional dry skin is usually easily managed through simple changes in your lifestyle. However, if you have dermatitis, you must seek medical treatment. Untreated dermatitis only gets worse, and early treatment will help you to feel comfortable sooner.
- Dry skin. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.aad.org/skin-conditions/dermatology-a-to-z/dry-skin
- Dry skin. (2011).National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003250.htm
- Dry skin/Itchy skin. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/dry_skin/derm_overview.aspx
- Moisturizers 101: Options for softer skin. (2010). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/moisturizers/SN00042
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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