Dry Skin

The medical term for dry skin is xerosis, and almost everyone experiences this condition occasionally.  If the skin remains dry to the extent that it feels itchy and scaly the condition is known as pruritus, and when it becomes so dry that it cracks, you have eczema.  With cracking the risk of any infection is greater since the skin cannot protect the underlying tissue.  Cellulitis may even result, and that condition can be very dangerous if not treated immediately.

Xerosis may be caused by a viral or bacterial agent, in which case treatment may include some type of systemic medication prescribed by a doctor.  More often the cause is environmental, having to do with temperature and humidity or pollutants in the air.

Cold weather is definitely a contributing factor for many people.  Home heating systems circulate warm, dry air that carries no moisture and in fact draws moisture from the skin.  Once outside in the cold, blood is drawn from the outer surface by the body’s protective mechanisms, leaving the skin undernourished and subject to further drying.

Oddly enough, the most common culprits are soap and water.  Bathing or showering more often than necessary, and using very hot water to do so will dry the skin much more quickly than less frequent washings in warm water.   The use of soap with no moisturizers is anathema to most skin, especially if the skin tends to dryness already.

Treating dry skin involves reversing the scaling and cracking, and helping the skin to retain moisture.  The best treatment known at this time is an emollient, applied especially after bathing, to prevent water from evaporating off the skin.  Emollients also serve to smooth any itchy, scaly areas that promote further damage from scratching.

In most cases, dry skin is not difficult to manage, with any number of over-the-counter products available to protect and moisturize your skin.  As a rule you should look for oil based as opposed to water-based creams or lotions, as they tend to do a better job.

It should be noted that dry skin can also be caused by other and much more serious medical disorders such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, liver or kidney disease and lymphoma, among others.  If the condition persists or is more than mildly aggravating, it is highly advisable to consult your physician and get a professional diagnosis.

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