Dry skin can be irritating on the legs, especially if it’s itchy. Anyone can experience it, and it may come and go. There are lots of reasons the skin on your legs gets dry, like weather changes, reactions to something the skin comes in contact with, or an illness.
But there are also lots of ways to soothe dry skin through lifestyle changes, moisturizers, and medical treatments.
Symptoms of dry skin on your legs can depend on the root cause. In general, dry skin on your legs can cause the following symptoms:
- flaky or scaly skin
- cracked skin
- skin that feels tight after being in water when bathing or swimming
- fine lines
- grey or ashy-looking skin
- bleeding sores
- crusty sores that ooze
Skin becomes dry when it’s not able to keep enough water in the top layer by using the body’s natural oils. Your legs can become dry for a variety of reasons, ranging from environmental factors to medical conditions.
Here are some of the most common causes of dry skin on legs:
Allergic dermatitis happens when skin comes into contact with a substance that triggers the immune system to overreact. On the legs, this could be a body wash, something from the outdoors, pets, or anything that causes an allergic reaction.
For some, the reaction can mean dry, cracked, or scaly skin.
Eczema is a skin condition that’s thought to be linked to genetics and triggered by the immune system. It can cause skin to be red, dry, itchy, or to develop a rash.
While it can appear anywhere on the body, eczema is commonly seen on the legs. For example, patches might develop behind the knees.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes the skin to produce too many skin cells at once. The buildup creates itchy, scaly patches that can also crack and bleed.
It’s common to find psoriasis patches on the knees.
Many people notice an increase in dry skin during certain times of the year, like when it starts to get cold outside. Lower humidity in the air (which typically happens during winter) can also increase the chances for skin becoming dry.
Research in 2016 suggests that the way skin reacts when exposed to the cold may be related to developing dry skin.
The study examined the length of time it took skin to return to its normal temperature after being exposed to the cold and found a connection with longer recovery time and dry skin symptoms.
Some soaps and skin cleansers can be very drying. That’s because they’re often designed to remove oils from your skin.
As we get older, our skin produces less oil, making it easier to become dry. This includes the skin on your legs.
It’s possible to experience dry skin as a symptom of another medical condition.
Common conditions that are linked to dry skin on your legs include:
Dry skin often responds to lifestyle changes and home remedies. If you’re experiencing an allergic reaction or irritation from using a certain product, treatment could be as simple as avoiding it.
But if the dry skin on your legs is related to an underlying health condition, like eczema, psoriasis, or Sjögren syndrome, treatment may involve medications for that condition.
Here are medical treatments that are commonly used:
- light therapy
- steroid creams
- immune-suppressing medications, like biologics
- oral antihistamines to reduce itching
There are some things you can do at home to relieve dry skin on the legs.
Avoid irritants that can make dry skin worse. These include:
- fragrances in soaps, lotions, or detergents
- showering or bathing in very hot water
- showering or bathing more than once in a 24-hour period
- products that have caused a negative reaction on your skin before
- harsh soaps that can remove moisture from the skin
Moisturizers in the form of ointments, creams, and lotions are designed to help trap water in your skin. Applying moisturizer daily, particularly right after you bathe, can help reduce dry skin.
Look for products with one or more of the following ingredients:
- hyaluronic acid
- glycolic acid
- plant butters and oils
- salicylic acid
Some ingredients work better than others for certain people or skin conditions, so you may need to experiment to see which is best for your skin. For example, colloidal oatmeal (ground oatmeal mixed in liquid), which is an ingredient in store-bought moisturizer formulas, might be helpful in soothing dry skin from eczema.
In general, it’s better to use something regularly over avoiding moisturizers all together.
In addition to moisturizing, making a few changes to your diet and lifestyle may help prevent dry skin from developing on your legs.
Try these tips:
There are many different causes for dry skin on the legs, ranging from allergic reactions and weather changes to chronic medical conditions. But no matter what the cause, it’s possible to get relief from uncomfortable symptoms, like itching, peeling, and cracking.
In some cases, using moisturizers and making lifestyle changes can be enough to ward off dry skin. But if the dry skin on your legs is caused by an underlying medical condition, you’ll likely need to treat that condition as well.