What is dry skin?
Dry skin is a very common skin condition characterized by a lack of the appropriate amount of water in the most superficial layer of the skin, the epidermis. While dry skin tends to affect males and females equally, older individuals are typically much more prone to dry skin. The skin in elderly individuals tends to have diminished amounts of natural skin oils and lubricants. Areas such as the arms, hands, and particularly lower legs tend to be more affected by dry skin. Environmental factors, such as humidity and temperature, have a profound effect on the amount of water retained within the skin. For example, cold, dry air when heated by a furnace will produce dry skin by evaporating moisture on the skin. Frequent hand-washing and sanitizing causes evaporation and dryness. Dry skin may also be a side effect of some medications as well as a byproduct of certain skin diseases.
How do health care professionals diagnose dry skin?
Generally, dry skin can be easily diagnosed when the physician visually inspects the skin. While dry skin can appear on any type of skin at any age, the elderly and individuals who frequently expose their skin to soaps or detergents are more prone to developing this condition. In addition, a thorough medical history and review of the family history can help support the diagnosis of dry skin. Based on the medical history, other medical conditions may be ruled out or considered. In more difficult cases, a skin biopsy may be helpful to confirm the diagnosis and direct the treatment plan.
Causes of dry skin patches
The skin can become dry, scaly, or flaky for many everyday reasons, such as being exposed to chemicals in soaps or harsh, windy weather.
Other causes of dry skin include:
using hot water
lotions that contain alcohol
In many cases, a person can alleviate the symptom by applying the right lotion to the affected area regularly and avoiding cleaning and personal care products that contain harsh chemicals.
In some cases, however, dry skin patches require specific treatment.
Skin conditions can become worse in cold weather, including dermatitis, which broadly refers to any condition that causes skin inflammation. There are many types of dermatitis.
Ichthyosis a term that refers to a group of genetic skin disorders that cause dry, scaly skin.
Most forms are extremely rare, and 95 percent of the people affected develop the mildest form: ichthyosis vulgaris.
People usually develop it as children, but some adults get acquired ichthyosis vulgaris.
The condition usually appears on the legs, but can also affect the hands, arms, and the trunk of the body.
Symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris include:
dry, itchy, and flaky skin
mild thickening of the skin
Learn more about ichthyosis vulgaris here
There are many ways to treat dry skin. This section will cover home remedies and medications.
Home remedies for dry skin include:
exfoliating with a loofah, pumice stone, or scrub to remove dead skin cells, if a doctor recommends it
applying ointment or cream regularly, ideally using products that contain humectants, ceramides, or emollients
using a humidifier to add moisture to the air
applying a cold compress to the affected area
adding baby oil to warm bath water or applying it when the skin is damp after a shower
using warm instead of hot water when showering or bathing
gently patting the skin dry with a towel
Prescription medicines for treating severe dry skin include:
topical medications, including creams, that contain alpha hydroxy acids or retinoids
steroids, including hydrocortisone
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