Understanding andAlleviating Dry Skin Symptoms

Dry Skin (xerosis) may not be an overly concerning ailment considering it doesn’t pose any serious health risks, but the constant itchiness that comes with it is very unpleasant. It’s for that reason that finding relief from dry skin and dry skin symptoms is a priority for many people. Nearly everyone’s had the need to put some moisturizer on dry skin before, and often that’s all that’s required to hydrate the skin and relieve dry skin symptoms. But for others – and especially those who’s dry skin is the result of underlying health conditions or medications use – a more intensive and more long-term approach to treating dry skin may be required.

Expanding upon what causes dry skin symptoms will be the primary focus, as well as looking at how dry skin can lead to other health complications if left untreated. We’ll look at effective dry skin treatments, and what you can do to prevent dry skin from recurring. Your skin is the largest organ in the human body. When you understand all the good it does for you then you’ll likely be more inclined to be proactive in keeping it healthy – and preventing dry skin is a part of that.

What Causes Dry Skin?

The outer layer of your skin is the epidermis. Epidermal skin is made up of fat (lipid) and protein. The lipid part helps prevent skin dehydration, and if there is a lipid or protein deficiency the skin’s moisture depletes and you develop dry skin symptoms. The stratum corneum is the top layer of the epidermis and that lack of moisture in the stratum corneum is what causes chronically dry skin. 

This lack of moisture leading to dry skin symptoms can occur for a number of different reasons. It happens naturally as we get older, and many people beginning seeing dry skin symptoms more regularly in their mid-50s. That’s due to their having less natural skin oils than when they were younger. Hormonal changes in women as they experience menopause and malnutrition can cause it too.

Skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis, and non-skin disorders like hypothyroidism and diabetes can be causes of dry skin symptoms as well.

Most causes of dry skin are environmental, including:

  • Low humidity and cold temperatures – Many people get dry skin in the wintertime, and especially on their legs. People living in dry climates like Arizona or New Mexico have it more often too
  • Heated forced air - Cold dry air heated as furnace heat causes dry skin, same goes for central heating, and even using the fireplace often
  • Excessive sun exposure – Spending a long time in direct sunlight (even with sunscreen) will dry out your skin unless you use a moisturizer cream or aloe vera cream right after your day in the sun
  • Constant abrasion – Having any type of surface sliding over an area of your skin with pressure is called ‘chafing’
  • Overuse of hand sanitizer products – These hand sanitizers are based in alcohol and will dry out skin if used excessively. Not only that, but it kills helpful bacteria on your skin that protect it.
  • Use of harsh soaps – Most inexpensive soaps contain a chemical called Lauryl Sulfate. If yours does, it will promote you having drier skin
  • Medications for high blood pressure (diuretics), high cholesterol, allergies, acne medications (Retin A, Isotretinoin)
  • Swimming in chlorinated pools, or taking extremely hot baths

Dry Skin Symptoms

Itchiness is always the dry skin symptom that you notice first. If your skin is really dry, you’ll also feel that your skin in that area is rough to the touch as you slide your palm along it. Flaking, peeling, or scaling of the skin is pretty common too, and fine lines of cracks can come with very dry skin too.

Extremely dry skin may have tough, dry and red patches on it, and severely dry skin may have cracks in it that can bleed.

The most commonly affected areas are the lower legs (and shins in particular), hands, arms, and sides of torso.

Treating and Preventing Dry Skin

Daily lubrication with an emollient is best. An emollient is a substance that prevents the evaporation of water. Regular application of moisturizing creams and lotions is good too, with common brands being Cetaphil, Lubriderm, Curel, and Neutrogena. Apply moisturizers within 3 to 5 minutes of coming out of the shower or bath.

Generalized itching can be relieved with oral antihistamines like Benadryl and Zyrtec. Severe dry skin can be treated with Vaseline or Aquaphor, and topical steroid creams like hydrocortisone, pramosone, triamcinolone, and fluocinonide can also be effective for relief. Make sure to use only mild corticosteroid creams like hydrocortisone for dry skin on face, underarm, or groin area.

Also be aware that long-term use of strong corticosteroids may result in adverse and undesirable side effects, including stretch marks, skin thinning, and degradation of the skin’s layers.

Other dry skin prevention tips include:

  • Taking shower and baths that are more lukewarm than hot
  • Avoiding inexpensive soaps, shampoos, and other skin care products, including deodorants
  • Considering using an indoor humidifier
  • Limit time in chlorinated swimming pools
  • Limit sun exposure time

Natural Dry Skin Remedies

Coconut oil can be good for relief from symptoms of dry skin. It’s a natural emollient, and it’s excellent for treating dry skin around your mouth. Petroleum jelly is a better choice for older people and their dry skin. It’s also called mineral oil and it covers the skin in a protective layer and traps moisture underneath. Another option is one that’s always associated with grandmothers – oatmeal baths. Colloidal oatmeal has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties to reduce irritation very effectively, and especially itching. If you use an oatmeal bath or soak you should use a moisturizer right after to lock in the barrier.