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Dry Skin: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

The top layer of skin is called the epidermis and it is considered the least important layer. When there is a lack of natural skin oils and lubricants or the body is not hydrated, this layer becomes dry and will flake off. Sometimes it will be itchy and if it persists, cracks can appear.

Causes of Dry Skin

Anyone at any age can experience dry skin. Usually it is a result of low humidity and the skin will simply not retain enough water. 

  • Furnace heated air tends to have that lack of moisture that will cause skin to dry out. 
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Use of hand sanitizers will also cause the moisture to evaporate and dry out especially the hands.
  • Some medications will have a side effect of producing dry skin.

The epidermis is composed of fat and protein.  The lipid, or fat portion together with specific proteins help keep the skin moisturized and supple. If the proteins and/or fats are diminished or missing, the natural moisture will disappear. The exact term is xerosis.

Internal & External Causes of Dry Skin

There can be internal or external causes for dry skin. External forces include cold temperatures and low humidity. 

Internally age is a factor since the body produces fewer cells overall and that will include the oils necessary to keep us lubricated. Also genetics and other medical conditions including thyroid problems will affect the skin. 

Some medications used to control blood pressure, high cholesterol, and acne will contribute the skin dryness. Some fibers used in the manufacture of clothing will cause an allergic reaction including dry skin. This includes wool and some synthetics.


Over-washing the skin can cause dryness, but that doesn’t mean you should stop showering or washing your hands. Bathing actually adds water to the skin, but when it evaporates, the oils dissipate and the skin feels tight. Just follow up with a good moisturizer. Be sure to follow the package directions on using moisturizing products and to use enough to do the job properly.

Identifying and Treating

If you notice rough, dry, and even red, patches on your arms hands, and lower legs, you probably have dry skin. Other areas can include the abdomen and areas that are prone to rubbing like ankles and the soles of feet. 

It is common for the itchiness to occur during sleeping and the individual will scratch the area without even knowing it, which will only aggravate the situation.

Excessive scratching and rubbing will make the skin thicken and feel leathery. Sometimes there are small red bumps which can become irritated by scratching.  In fact, too much abrasion can open the areas and leave them prone to infection.

If left untreated, dry skin will become more sensitive and will be more apt to develop a rash. Serious complications can include eczematous dermatitis, bacterial infections, cellulitits and skin discoloration.

The best prevention is to shy away from harsh soaps and chemical cleansers. Treatment is usually using lotions and moisturizers

If you have serious concerns, discuss it with your primary care physician or consult a dermatologist.

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