Dry skin is not a serious condition but it can be uncomfortable and fine lines and wrinkles show up on the skin.
Severe dry skin conditions (ichthyosis) may be disfiguring and upsetting. Factors that may cause dry skin include hot or cold weather, low humidity and soaking in hot water. Chronic or severe dry skin problems may require medical attention by a dermatologist (skin doctor).
Home remedies to improve dry skin include moisturizers and avoiding harsh, drying soaps.
In most cases, dry skin is temporary but it also may be a lifelong condition. Dry skin often occurs on the arms and lower legs, but in general, the symptoms of dry skin depend on age, overall health, living environment and time spent outdoors.
Symptoms of dry skin may include:
- Feeling of skin tightness, especially after showering or swimming
- Skin that feels or looks rough
- Itching (pruritus)
- Fine lines or cracks
- Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
- Gray, ashy skin in people with dark skin
- Deep cracks that may bleed
Symptoms of dry skin that may require medical attention:
- No skin improvement after applying home remedies
- Dry skin accompanied by redness
- Dryness and itching that interfere with sleeping
- Open sores or infections from scratching
- Large areas of scaling or peeling skin
Most cases of dry skin (xerosis) have an environmental cause; however, certain diseases can also affect the skin. Potential causes of dry skin include:
- Weather: skin is generally driest in winter, but it may also become significantly dry in desert regions with low humidity.
- Heat: any form of heating in the home reduces the humidity and dry the skin.
- Hot baths and showers: long, hot showers or baths can dry the skin as well as frequent swimming, especially in heavily chlorinated pools.
- Harsh soaps and detergents: soaps (deodorant and antibacterial soaps) and detergents can dry the skin. Shampoos may dry the scalp.
- Sun exposure: sun and its ultraviolent radiation dries the skin by penetrating deep under the top layer of skin and may lead to deep wrinkles and loose, sagging skin.
- Other skin conditions: atopic dermatitis (eczema) or psoriasis, rapid buildup of rough, dry, dead skin cells can cause dry skin.
Anyone can develop dry skin; however, the following factors may increase the risk of dry skin:
- Age (40 and older)
- Living in a dry, cold or low-humidity climates
- Frequent swimming in chlorinated pools
- A job that requires immersing of the skin in water
Untreated dry skin may lead to the following complications:
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema): if one is prone to develop this condition, excessive dryness can contribute to its development and cause redness, cracking and inflammation.
- Infections: cracks in dry skin may allow bacteria to enter and lead to infections.
These complications are more likely to occur if the skin’s normal protective mechanisms are severely compromised.