Often itchy, dry skin is caused by environmental factors, such as cold weather and frequent bathing, and by medical conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and malnutrition. Dry skin develops due to a decrease in the natural oils in the outer layer of skin, which makes the skin lose water.
Dry skin is caused by a number of environmental factors including:
- Low humidity
- Frequent bathing
- Harsh soaps
- Atopic dermatitis
- Down syndrome
- Liver or kidney disease
- Legs, especially the fronts of the lower legs (shins)
- Trunk, especially the side areas between the bottom rib and the hip (flanks)
- Backs of the hands
Dry skin can be completely without symptoms (asymptomatic), though more inflamed skin tends to be mildly to severely itchy.
- Take a bath or shower only once daily. More frequent bathing can make the skin lose water (dehydrate).
- Use lukewarm (not hot) water.
- Limit bath time to 15 minutes.
- Avoid harsh deodorant soaps (or limit their use to armpits, groin, and feet).
- Use non-soap cleansers.
- Pat (don't rub) the skin dry after bathing.
- Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing, while the skin is still moist.
- When choosing a moisturizer, look for oil-based creams and ointments, which work better than water-based lotions.
- Petrolatum or petroleum jelly (Vaseline®)
- Fragrance-free creams or ointments
- Preparations containing alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid or lactic acid
- Creams containing urea
- Over-the-counter cortisone cream (if the areas are itchy)
- Topical antibiotics applied immediately to any cracks in the skin to help prevent infection
- Cream containing alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid)
- Urea-based cream
- Preparation containing high concentrations of propylene glycol
- Corticosteroid (cortisone) cream, if the skin is inflamed or very itchy