Dry skin on Elbows

Dry skin, or xeroderma, is very common and can affect people of all ages. It can make the skin look and feel rough, itchy, or flaky and may be a seasonal or year-round problem, as there are many underlying causes for dry skin. Take a deeper look at what dry skin is, what causes it, and how various types of dry skin are best treated and prevented. 

What Causes Dry Skin?

Dry skin is a sign of a damaged skin barrier. The skin barrier is made up of natural lipids that work as a physical barrier to keep moisture sealed inside the skin. A damaged barrier does not contain enough lipids between skin cells, leaving room for moisture to escape and for bacteria and irritants to get inside. 

For some people, dry winter air causes temporary skin barrier damage, resulting in seasonally dry, itchy skin, while others may struggle with an impaired skin barrier and dry, dehydrated skin year-round, regardless of the weather.

In addition to the weather and seasonal changes, some of the most common causes or triggers for dry skin include:

  • Indoor environment. For many people, dry skin becomes worse in the cooler months when they are heating their homes, resulting in drier air. 
  • Aging. As we age, our skin produces fewer of the lipids needed to promote a healthy skin barrier and tends to become thinner and more susceptible to damage.
  • Other skin conditions. Inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis can be underlying causes of dry, flaky skin.
  • Other medical conditions and treatments. Some medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, and kidney disease can cause the skin to become dry and dehydrated. 
  • Certain skincare ingredients. Using skincare products with heavy fragrances, drying alcohols, or other ingredients that can irritate the skin and strip away natural oils can lead to dryness. 

A Closer Look at Dry Skin Conditions

As mentioned above, some inflammatory conditions can show up as dry, red, itchy, or flaky patches of skin. Below is a brief overview of the most common conditions that cause dry skin.

  • Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has been exposed to an allergen or irritant, causing itching, redness, and often dryness or flaking. These symptoms should dissipate once your skin is no longer exposed to the allergen.
  • Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is an inflammatory skin condition characterized by patches of dry, itchy, and irritated skin. 
  • Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition that causes dry, scaly patches of skin that can itch, burn, or bleed. There are several types of psoriasis, and the best treatment approach will depend on which type you have.
  • Rosacea is an inflammatory condition that most frequently presents as red flushing of the skin, but may also cause dryness and irritation. 

How Is Dry Skin Diagnosed?

To discover the root cause of dry skin, your dermatologist may use a variety of assessment methods, which might include:

  • Assessing family or personal history of inflammatory skin conditions.
  • Evaluating your skin, looking for signs of dryness, flaking, scaling, redness, or other signs of irritation and inflammation.
  • Reviewing skincare products and/or medications that you currently use.
  • Performing additional tests, if needed, such as patch tests for allergies or blood tests to rule out other medical causes for dry skin.

Tips for Treating and Preventing Dry Skin

In addition to working with your dermatologist to develop an individual dry skin treatment plan, you can follow these general tips to help alleviate and prevent dry skin. The key to treating dry, itchy skin is to take steps to repair and prevent damage to the skin’s natural barrier:

  1. Apply a barrier repair moisturizer. These contain lipids that closely mimic the natural lipid structure found in a healthy skin barrier. You can use a heavier moisturizer at night to avoid a heavy feeling under makeup during the day.
  2. Avoid fragrances and other potentially drying or irritating skincare ingredients, including essential oils, since many can irritate dry, sensitive skin.
  3. Use lukewarm water to wash your face or shower. Very hot water can cause more damage to the skin barrier.
  4. Protect your skin from cold, dry air. This is especially important for anyone traveling from a humid climate like Florida to a more arid climate, as your skin will need time to acclimate to its drier environment.
  5. Use a humidifier in your home or office to add more moisture to the air. 

Common Questions About Dry Skin

Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get about how to treat and manage dry skin.

Will Drinking Water Cure Dry Skin?

Drinking enough water is important for your entire body, including your skin. However, if you are already drinking the recommended amount of water per day, drinking even more is unlikely to alleviate dry skin. Instead, work with your dermatologist to get to the root cause of your dry skin in order to properly treat and repair it. That said, if you do not generally drink the recommended amount of water per day, it can be beneficial for your entire body, including your skin, to increase your intake.

Why Is My Skin Dry Even after Moisturizing?

There are many reasons why your skin might remain dry and flaky even if you apply a moisturizer every day. You could be using the wrong type of moisturizer for your skin or are not applying enough moisturizer throughout the day, or other factors such as using scented hand soap or washing your hands with very hot water could counteract the benefits of your moisturizer.

Do Vitamin Deficiencies Cause Dry Skin?

Certain vitamin deficiencies may contribute to dry skin, as these nutrients play an integral role in maintaining skin health and repairing and renewing damaged cells throughout your body. Some clinical evidence has shown a link between certain vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin D, and eczema, but more research is needed in this area.

In Summary

Dry skin is a common problem for people of all ages and skin types. While some instances of dry skin can be alleviated with the use of a good-quality barrier repair moisturizer, other cases may be caused by an underlying inflammatory condition that might require more attention.

In either case, your dermatologist can assess your skin to determine the root cause of dryness and flaking and can offer customized treatment recommendations based on your skin’s specific needs.

Ready to take the first step toward alleviating dry, itchy skin for good? Call our South Florida office at 561-498-4407 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our dry skin experts.