Skin becomes dry when it lacks water or natural oils. Dry skin is common in drier climates, during cold weather and with aging. It also appears to be a common condition in South Asians.
Prevention and Treatment
- Keep Your Skin Well Moisturized — Emollients help your skin retain moisture. Creams (such as Eucerin® and Cetaphil®) and ointments (such as Aquaphor® and petroleum jelly) are effective emollients.
- Avoid Hot Water — Hot water removes natural oils in the skin. Warm water is preferred for showers and baths.
- Limit Bathing Time — Keep bathing time between five and 10 minutes to prevent dry skin due to the combination of evaporation and towel drying.
- Moisturize After Bathing — It is best to use an emollient (see above) right after bathing while the skin is still moist to help trap the water in the skin. Be sure to pat dry to avoid further irritation to the skin.
- Minimize Soap Use — Even the mildest soaps remove natural emollients from the skin. Most areas are adequately cleaned with water alone. When using soaps, choose milder ones such as Neutrogena® or Dove®.
- Limit Central Heating and Air Conditioning — These can contribute to dry skin. Consider using a portable humidifier if you spend time in a dry environment.
Consequences of Dry Skin
Over time, dry skin can lead to skin inflammation, also known as dermatitis. Dermatitis can be an uncomfortable condition that is characterized by constant itching and skin irritation that may require topical medications. Dry, cracked skin can also be susceptible to infections.
When to See the Doctor
See your personal physician if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Dry skin that persists despite the above measures
- Open sores or infections from scratching
- Dryness and itching that interfere with your daily activities or sleep
Last Reviewed: 2012