What is dry skin?

Dry skin is skin that doesn’t have enough moisture in it to keep it feeling soft and supple. People with dry skin may have rough-feeling patches that flake off or look scaly. It may or may not be itchy (pruritis). Severe dry skin may crack and bleed.

How common is dry skin?

Dry skin is a common condition that affects people of all ages.

Who’s most likely to get dry skin?

People who live in dry climates, work outside or wash their hands frequently get dry skin. Dry skin can be related to some health issues, like allergies, hormones, and diabetes.

Older people are more prone to dry skin for many reasons:

  • Moisture-producing oil and sweat glands dry up.
  • Skin becomes thinner.
  • Fat and collagen, substances that gives skin its elasticity, decrease.

What are the types of dry skin?

Your healthcare provider may use the medical term for dry skin: xerosis. Dry skin is often made worse during the winter because of low humidity. However, it can occur year-round. If it’s severe, dry skin can cause itching and rashes called dermatitis (inflammation of skin). There are several different types of dermatitis, including:

  • Contact dermatitis: This occurs when something comes into contact with your skin, which causes an irritant or allergic reaction. Your skin may be dry, itchy and red, and you may also have a skin rash. Some examples include jewelry metals (nickel), cosmetics, detergents or medications.
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis): This group of skin conditions causes red, dry, bumpy and itchy patches of skin. Severe forms can cause cracking of the skin, which makes you more prone to infection. This common skin disorder often affects children and can be inherited. Irritants, allergens and stress can make eczema worse.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: Dry skin on the scalp causes a condition known as dandruff in adults or cradle cap in infants. Seborrheic dermatitis can also cause dry, flaky skin patches on the face, navel (belly button) and inside creases of the arms, legs or groin. This type of dermatitis is actually caused when your body reacts to a normal yeast that grows on your skin.
  • Athlete’s foot: This can mimic dry skin on the feet, but it is actually caused by a fungus. When this fungus grows on the body, it’s called “ringworm”. People who have athlete’s foot may have dry, flaky skin on the soles of their feet.

What causes dry skin?

You can develop dry skin for many reasons, including:

  • Age: Older adults are more prone to dry skin due to natural skin changes. As you age, oil and sweat glands dry up, and skin loses fat and elasticity, causing it to become thinner.
  • Climate: People who live in dry, desert-like environments are more prone to dry skin because there’s less moisture, or humidity, in the air.
  • Genetics: Some people inherit certain skin conditions, such as eczema, that cause dry skin.
  • Health conditions: Some illnesses, including diabetes and kidney disease, can cause dry, itchy skin.
  • Occupations: Healthcare providers, hairstylists and other professionals are more likely to develop dry, red skin because they wash hands frequently.

What are the symptoms of dry skin?

Signs of dry skin include:

  • Cracked, rough-looking skin.
  • Flakes or scales.
  • Itchiness.
  • Redness.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/13/2020.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Dry Skin: Overview. Accessed 5/15/2020.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Pruritis. Accessed 5/15/2020.
  • Merck Manual. Itching. Accessed 5/15/2020.
  • National Eczema Association. Managing Itch. Accessed 5/15/2020.
  • National Institute on Aging. Skin Care and Aging. Accessed 5/15/2020.

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