Dry skin, also known as xeroderma, is a common skin condition that can be uncomfortable and unattractive. Individuals troubled by dry skin experience redness and itchiness in the affected area. In most cases, dry skin can be symptomatically controlled with simple treatments.
Causes of Dry Skin
Aging, and its resulting changes in hormone levels, is a common cause of dry skin. In addition, certain diseases or environmental factors may cause the skin to become excessively dry.
Disease Conditions That Cause Dry Skin
Skin dryness may be caused by several skin disorders, including contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, psoriasis, and ichthyosis, a genetic disorder causing a dry scaly appearance to the skin. There may be difficulty at first in distinguishing early symptoms of these conditions from more ordinary dry skin.
Eczema can usually be diagnosed because of the locations of the affected areas which are usually on the face, sides of the neck, and the backs of the elbow and knees. Psoriasis and ichthyosis, on the other hand, present as accumulations of rough scaly skin cells on many areas of the body. All three skin disorders result in more severe symptoms than simple dry skin and often cause psychological problems, due to altered appearance, as well as medical ones.
Other diseases, such as certain endocrine or autoimmune disorders may also result in dry skin. These include hypothroidism, diabetes and Sjogren's disease. Certain medications may also cause dry skin.
Environmental Factors That Cause Dry Skin
Some of the environmental factors that may cause the skin to dry out include:
- Exposure to hot or cold weather
- Long hot showers
- Dry indoor heat
- Harsh soaps, shampoos or detergents
- Particular dyes or chemicals
- Sun exposure
Treatments for Dry Skin
For most people, the tightness, itchiness and general discomfort of dry skin are relatively easy to alleviate. Simple lifestyle changes, like covering oneself appropriately against cold weather, wearing protective sunscreen, avoiding hot showers or baths, using moisturizing creams, particularly immediately after bathing, and humidifying the surrounding air, can be sufficient. Products with petroleum jelly are especially useful in eliminating dry skin since they provide an effective barrier to moisture. Products with fragrance are to be avoided since they may further dry out the skin.
If a particular substance, material or medication is found to be causing the skin irritation, avoiding it can make a tremendous difference. For more severe cases of skin dryness, stronger creams or ointments may be prescribed by the physician. There is also some scientific evidence that taking a fish oil supplement may improve the condition of dry skin.
- National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
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