Dry skin causes your skin to have a rough texture because it doesn’t have enough moisture. Dry skin is very common. The medical term for dry skin is xeroderma. You can treat dry skin at home by using moisturizers. Talk to a dermatologist if you have dry skin that doesn’t go away or keeps returning.
Dry skin is skin that doesn’t have enough moisture in it to keep it feeling soft. The medical term for dry skin is xeroderma (pronounced “ze-ROW-derm-ah”). Xerosis (pronounced “ze-ROW-sis”) is severely dry skin. Dry skin feels like rough patches of your skin that can flake or look scaly. If your skin is dry, it may or may not be itchy (pruritis). Severe dry skin may crack and bleed.
Types of dry skin include:
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Dry skin is common and affects nearly everyone at some point in their life. You might be more at risk of getting dry skin if you:
Dry skin changes the texture of your skin from soft to rough. This can cause your skin to feel itchy or change color from your normal skin tone. You can have dry skin patches, which are small areas of dry skin, or dry skin could affect a larger area of your skin. Dry skin is usually harmless and only causes temporary discomfort until you’re able to rehydrate your skin with a moisturizer.
Severely dry skin is fragile and easily flakes or cracks, which can turn into a painful sore. In the event of skin sore from dry skin, take care of your skin like you would an injury or wound to prevent infection.
Symptoms of dry skin include skin that’s:
If you have severely dry skin, a rash could develop on your skin. The rash could have small, pimple-like bumps, be itchy, swollen or be a different color than the skin around it, usually red to purple. The medical term for this rash is dermatitis, which is another word for skin swelling and inflammation.
You can have dry skin anywhere on your body, but the most common places include:
You can test your skin at home to see if you have dry skin by lightly dragging your fingernails across your skin. When you do this, make sure you don’t put any pressure on your skin with your fingernails and avoid scratching yourself. This test works well on your arms or legs where you have a large surface area of skin. When you perform this test, look at your skin and see if it flakes. Flaking skin is a sign of dry skin. This could look like tiny snowflakes or dust. You might even see a light mark on your skin that’s similar to a line on a chalkboard where you performed this test.
A lack of moisture within the layers of your skin causes dry skin. Factors that cause dry skin include:
Dry skin can be easy to diagnose by its appearance. Your healthcare provider will diagnose dry skin after a complete medical history, a physical exam and learning more about your symptoms.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider may order tests to check for health conditions that cause dry skin, such as:
Treatment for dry skin focuses on rehydrating or bringing moisture back to your skin. Treatment for dry skin could include:
There are several different moisturizer options available if you have dry skin. When choosing a moisturizer for your dry skin, look for products that:
When choosing a moisturizer, remember that your skin is unique and a product that works for someone else might not be best for you and your skin. Your healthcare provider or your dermatologist can help you choose skin care products designed for you and your dry skin.
If you have recurring dry skin or a medical condition that has dry skin as a symptom, your primary care provider might recommend you see a dermatologist to treat your dry skin. A dermatologist is a medical provider who specializes in skin health.
Certain foods and drinks can pull water from your body and cause dehydration. Avoid food and drinks that contain:
Untreated or severely dry skin can cause your skin to crack open and bleed. Open sores or wounds from these cracks expose your body to germs that can cause infections. Rarely, dry, itchy skin can indicate a more serious health problem, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Keeping your skin moisturized is the best way to manage symptoms of dry skin. The best time of day to apply moisturizer to your skin is:
You can prevent dry skin at home by:
Most people can successfully treat dry skin by using a daily moisturizer and taking proactive steps like minimizing exposure to hot temperatures and other irritants. It’s a good idea to take care of dry skin for your overall health. Rough, dry skin can feel uncomfortable and if your skin gets too dry, it can crack and break open, which makes you more prone to infection.
You should call your healthcare provider if your skin:
If you’re concerned about dry skin, talk to your healthcare provider. You may want to ask:
There could be many reasons why your skin is still dry after using a lotion or a moisturizer, including:
If you’re having trouble treating your dry skin, talk with your healthcare provider or a dermatologist.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dry skin may look rough and flaky and itchy and uncomfortable. Fortunately, dry skin causes few long-term problems. Although it’s typically a chronic condition, dry skin is very manageable. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to prevent and soothe your dry skin. If other conditions, like eczema, cause dry skin, your healthcare provider can prescribe medications and offer tips to treat the condition.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/23/2022.
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