What Causes Dry Elbows and How Can I Treat It?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, CNE, COI on January 11, 2017Written by Jerisha Parker Gordon on January 11, 2017

Why your elbows are dry

There are many possible reasons for why your elbows may not be as silky smooth as they once were. Do you spend a lot of time in the pool? Chlorine could be the culprit. Are the temperatures starting to drop where you live? Cool, dry weather may be sucking the moisture not just out of the air, but also out of your skin.

Dry elbows can also be the result of run-of-the-mill skin irritation. This may be caused by the ingredients in certain soaps, perfumes, and lotions. Hot baths or showers can also dry out your skin.

In some cases, dry skin may be a sign or symptom of an underlying medical condition. This includes eczema and psoriasis.

No matter the cause, there are steps you can take to help your elbows return to their natural smoothness. Here’s how.

Remedy 1: Re-evaluate your shower routine

There are a few different aspects of your shower regimen that may be contributing to the dry skin around your elbows.

Dry elbows can be the result of too much time in the water, so limiting the time you spend in the shower or tub may be beneficial. Lowering the temperature is also a must. Hot water can zap the moisture from your skin, so aim for a more moderate heat level.

If you’re using scented soap or body wash, you may want to consider going fragrance-free. Scented washes can often dry out your skin. If you want to switch to something new, you could even opt for a wash with added moisturizer.

Remedy 2: Use the right moisturizer

If you aren’t moisturizing after every shower or bath, it’s time to start. You should also apply lotion to your elbows anytime they’re exposed to water or if there’s a drastic change in temperature.

When choosing a lotion or cream, look for products that contain:

  • olive oil
  • coconut oil
  • petroleum jelly
  • cocoa butter
  • shea butter

You can find hydrating lotions and moisturizers at grocery stores and pharmacies, available at different price points.

If you’d rather try a do-it-yourself treatment instead of purchasing lotions or creams, you can make your own exfoliating moisturizer at home:

  • Mix 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with 1/3 cup of olive oil.
  • Rub the mixture onto the affected elbow or elbows. This all-natural exfoliate will help remove dead skin and hydrate the area.
  • Rinse the area well after scrubbing.

For optimal results, apply Vaseline or another hydrating product to the area. This will help lock in moisture.

Remedy 3: Take note of your tops and outerwear

Have you worn a new top or blouse recently? Or maybe you’re snuggling up into a new blanket? If you have sensitive skin, some fabrics can cause irritation and lead to dryness.

If you notice your elbows feel especially dry or flaky after coming into contact with a certain fabric, it may be worth looking into. Limit your contact with the material and take note of your symptoms. If the symptoms lessen, the dryness may be the result of fabric irritation.

It’s also important to make sure that the detergent you wash your clothes with is free of irritants that can also dry out the skin on your elbows. Potential irritants include:

  • chemicals
  • fragrances
  • nickel
  • potassium dichromate

Remedy 4: Guard against the outside environment

When the weather changes, so do your skincare needs.

For example, getting too much sun can dry out your skin, especially on your elbows. If you plan to be in the sun for an extended period of time, be sure to apply fragrance-free sunscreen and wear protective clothing. For optimal protection, reapply your sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

Extremely cold temperatures can dry out the skin on your elbows, too. If you’re in a cool, dry setting, be sure to apply moisturizer and keep your elbows covered.

Remedy 5: Choose the best skincare products for you

If your dry elbows are due to a medical condition such as eczema or psoriasis, there are specially formulated products to better ease your symptoms. Talk with your doctor or dermatologist about the over-the-counter and prescription options available to you. They can advise you on ingredients to look for and brands that you can trust.

If you don’t have a diagnosed skin condition but think one might be behind your symptoms, consult your doctor. They can assess the affected area and, if needed, make a diagnosis. With your doctor’s help, you can develop a regimen that’s right for you.

Check out: Can I use coconut oil for skin care? »

When to see your doctor or dermatologist

If the dryness persists, you should consult your doctor or dermatologist. This may be a sign of an undetected allergy or other medical condition.

If your symptoms worsen to include red patches or bleeding, you should seek medical attention. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and determine the best course of action for you.

Outlook

Although dry elbows can be uncomfortable, the symptoms are often only temporary. Tweaking your shower routine or trying a new lotion may be all that’s needed to hydrate your skin and lock in moisture.

In some cases, over-the-counter or prescription medication to treat dryness may be beneficial. If your symptoms persist, talk with your doctor or dermatologist to find a treatment that’s right for you.

Keep reading: A guide to taking care of your skin »

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