Dry skin develops when your skin loses water too quickly and becomes dehydrated. Age, medical history, the season and bathing habits may lead to dry skin. Treatments may depend on the cause.

Dry skin is an uncomfortable condition marked by scaling, itching, and cracking. It can occur for a variety of reasons. You might have naturally dry skin. But even if your skin tends to be oily, you can develop dry skin from time to time.

Dry skin can affect any part of your body. It commonly affects hands, arms, and legs. In many cases, lifestyle changes and over-the-counter moisturizers may be all you need to treat it. If those treatments aren’t enough, you should contact your doctor.

Frequent hand-washing and using hand sanitizer can also cause your hands to become dry. It can be helpful to apply moisturizer after each time you wash your hands.

Exposure to dry weather conditions, hot water, and certain chemicals can cause your skin to dry out. Dry skin can also result from underlying medical conditions.

Dermatitis is the medical term for extremely dry skin. There are several different types of dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis develops when your skin reacts to something it touches, causing localized inflammation.

Irritant contact dermatitis can occur when your skin’s exposed to an irritating chemical agent, such as bleach.

Allergic contact dermatitis can develop when your skin is exposed to a substance you’re allergic to, such as nickel.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitisoccurs when your skin produces too much oil. It results in a red and scaly rash, usually on your scalp. This type of dermatitis is common in infants.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is also known as eczema. It’s a chronic skin condition that causes dry scaly patches to appear on your skin. It’s common among young children.

Other conditions, such as psoriasis and type 2 diabetes, can also cause your skin to dry out.

Is dry skin normal?

The simple answer is yes. As you get older, it’s common for your skin to become dryer over time. By the age of 60, nearly everyone struggles with dry skin.

Dry skin is caused when the skin loses water too quickly, and therefore becomes dehydrated. There are a few things that can increase the risk of the skin losing water.

Risk factors for dry skin

Dry skin can affect anyone. But some risk factors raise your chances of developing dry skin, including:

  • Age. Older adults are more likely to develop dry skin. As you age, your pores naturally produce less oil, raising your risk of dry skin.
  • Medical history. You’re more likely to experience eczema or allergic contact dermatitis if you have a history of these conditions or other allergic diseases in your family.
  • Season. Dry skin is more common during the fall and winter months, when humidity levels are relatively low. In the summer, higher levels of humidity help stop your skin from drying out.
  • Bathing habits. Taking frequent baths or washing with very hot water raises your risk of dry skin.

While it can be common for your skin to dry every so often, some people may experience severe dry skin. This can mean your skin is flaky, irritated, or inflamed more often than normal and can be hard to successfully treat.

What causes chronic dry skin?

There can be a few causes and risk factors related to severe or chronic dry skin. These include:

There are a few markers of dry skin that may point to a need for treatment or lifestyle changes. These symptoms can include:

  • flaky or rough texture of the skin
  • excessive itchiness
  • infections
  • skin burns or stings
  • peeling skin

While some may assume that you’ll only get acne when your skin is oily, that’s actually not the case. Dry skin can also cause acne, as blemishes sometimes occur when there is general damage to the skin.

To combat both dry skin and acne breakouts, consider continuing your skin care as usual but also applying a moisturizer that’s targeted for acne-prone skin twice a day. Also avoid any chemicals, such as rubbing alcohol, as it can dry your skin out even more.

Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your dry skin.

In some cases, they may refer you to a skin specialist or dermatologist. Along with lifestyle remedies, they may recommend over-the-counter or prescription ointments, creams, or lotions to treat your symptoms.

Simple lifestyle changes can sometimes help to prevent and relieve dry skin. Try to:

  • avoid using hot water to bathe or shower
  • shower every other day instead of every day
  • keep your shower time to less than 10 minutes
  • use a moisturizing soap when you bathe or shower
  • apply moisturizer immediately after bathing or showering
  • pat, rather than rub, wet skin dry with a soft towel
  • avoid itching or scrubbing dry skin patches
  • use a humidifier in your home
  • drink plenty of water
  • change your skin care routine as directed by your doctor

It’s also important to choose the right kind of moisturizer for your skin type. If your skin is extremely dry, look for a petrolatum-based product.

You might consider switching to a lighter, water-based lotion during the summer months. Lotions that contain grapeseed oil and antioxidants can also help trap water in your skin.

If you experience occasional dry skin, you can likely prevent and treat it using simple lifestyle changes and over-the-counter moisturizers. If you develop severe dry skin, make an appointment with your doctor.

If left untreated, dermatitis can get worse. Early treatment will help you to feel comfortable sooner. It will also lower your risk of complications, such as open wounds from scratching and skin infections.