SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Dry skin, also called xerosis, is a common problem. Your skin needs moisture to stay smooth and supple, and retaining moisture becomes difficult as we age. Our skin also looses moisture more readily in the winter. The signs and symptoms of dry skin are: rough, scaly, or flaking skin, itching, gray, ashy skin in people with dark skin, cracks in the skin, chapped or cracked lips. When dry skin cracks, germs can get in through the skin. Once inside, germs can cause an infection. Red, sore spots on the skin may be an early sign of an infection.
WHO GETS IT AND CAUSES
Anyone can get dry skin. Skin becomes dry when it loses too much water or oil. Some people are more likely to have dry skin. Some causes of dry skin are: age, climate, skin disease, job and swimming.
Simple daily routines, such as bathing and towel drying, may actually remove moisture from the skin. Modifying your bathing routine will help preserve your skin’s moisture. Bathing provides the skin with moisture temporarily, but it removes the skin’s oily lipid layer and in the long run causes more moisture loss than gain. The wrong moisturizing lotion can have the same effect. Generally, water-based lotions are best cosmetically but oil-based creams are more effective in trapping moisture. Xerotic skin can often lead to intense itching. In this case, the dermatologist may prescribe a prescription strength cream to help relieve the itch, redness and swelling.
DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENT AND OUTCOME
To find out whether your dry skin is a sign of a skin disease, Dr. Feinstein, a board certified dermatologist, will carefully examine your skin. He also will ask questions, such as when the problem began. This information will help Dr. Feinstein make the right diagnosis and determine the best treatment. Test may be needed if a dermatologist thinks your dry skin is due to a health problem.
Dr. Feinstein may recommend a moisturizer. Applying a moisturizer frequently throughout the day can help. When skin is extremely dry, Dr. Feinstein may prescribe a medicine that you can apply to your skin. If your dry skin is caused by something that you are doing, such as immersing your hands in water all day, you may need to stop doing this for a few days. When you start up again, you may need to wear gloves or apply a special moisturizer throughout the day.
TIPS FOR MANAGING
Do not use hot water; hot water removes your natural skin oils more quickly. Warm water is best for bathing. Use a gentle cleanser, soaps can strip oils from the skin. Limit time in the bathtub or shower, a 5 to 10 minute bath or shower adds moisture to the skin. Do not bathe more often than once a day. To lock in moisture from a bath or shower, apply a moisturizer while the skin is still damp. Use a humidifier. Apply cool cloths to itchy dry skin. Soothe chapped lips by applying a lip balm that contains petrolatum at bedtime. Cover up outdoors in winter by wearing a scarf and gloves to help prevent chapped lips and hands. If you have very dry skin, cleanse your face just once a day, at night. In the morning, rinse your face with cool water.