During winter, skin is subjected to an increased amount of moisture loss. As a result, I hear the term dry skin used a lot. There really are many terms in dermatology related to dry skin. In fact, the term dry skin is a layman’s phrase. I’m going to share some of the more colorful and interesting terms physicians use to describe this condition. Often, the medical term itself is a clue to the symptoms it is referring to. I selected and interpreted a few terms that I find particularly interesting and relevant to this time of year.
Skin Xerosis \zi-ˈrō-səs\
Many people confuse xerosis with the liver disease cirrhosis (si-row-sis) because the two words sound so similar. Xer is the Greek word for dry. You may recognize this root in other words in the English language such as xeric, which describes a plant, animal, or landscape that tolerates a very dry environment. So it makes sense that skin xerosis is the label physicians use to describe dry skin.
The root word ichthy is the Greek word for fish. Ichthyotic describes the fish- or plate-like scales that tend to be very common on people’s lower legs during the winter. Specifically, ichthyotic is an adjective that means pertaining to, or exhibiting similar symptoms as a person who is diagnosed with a specific disease called ichthyosis. Ichthyosis is an inherited disease with several different subtypes. People with ichthyosis look like they have dry skin year-round. Someone who is ichthyotic is a person who simply has the dry, scale-like symptoms. It looks like ichthyosis, but the person may not have the inherited disease.
Eczema Craquelé \ˈeg-zə-mə\ \krak-a-ˈlay\
Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin. Craquelé is a French word that means covered in small cracks. An old porcelain plate covered in tiny cracks would be described as craquelé. So eczema craquelé is used to describe a disease where the dry skin has the appearance of being covered with tiny cracks. People often describe eczema craquelé as skin that looks like a dried-up river bed.
Eczema craquelé and skin xerosis are nouns, and ichthyotic is an adjective. For example, I might describe someone as having ichthyotic-like scale but diagnose them with eczema craquelé.
Typically, when it comes to dry skin or skin xerosis, I have found that people tend to be drier on their lower legs and hands. I believe hands are exposed to air more but generally get more attention and moisturizer than the legs. People most apt to develop skin xerosis are those at the extremes of age: the elderly or infants. This is because the skin’s natural water barrier is impaired in these populations. I recommend using thick, emollient-type moisturizers like petroleum jelly that trap water and allow the skin to heal. Above all, if you have any questions about dry skin, I urge you to talk to your doctor or dermatologist.