Dry skin is a commonly occurring condition due to extreme cold and dry weather. Common characteristics of dry skin are rough to touch and flaky, scaly looking skin. Skin will have a dry feel and is not supple or elastic. Elderly people are affected more often than young people. Dry skin causes desiccated looking rough patches and fine-looking flakes. It is more common on your arms, hands, lower legs and flanks. Dry skin is also known as xerosis.
Who can be affected?
Both males and females are equally affected by dry skin. Dry skin affects young people temporarily and seasonally whereas older people are more permanently affected. Genes can be a cause and dry skin can be an inherited condition. Dry skin is commonly found in individuals who take certain medications and with a medical history like
- Atopic dermatitis.
Dry skin occurs when the skin’s outer layer (the stratum corneum) is depleted of water.Stratum corneum consist of dead flattened compactly arranged cells that move towards the skin surface and slough off.Normally stratum corneum has a water content of 10- 30 % .This water gives the skin the soft and supple look .When this layer is well moistenened ,it minimizes water loss through the skin and acts as a protective barrier from allergens,irritants and harsh environment.Loosing of water from skin is a continious procedure through evaporation ,however the rate of loss is slow and water is adequately replaced ,signs and symptoms of dry skin appear when the water loss exceeds water replacement,and the stratum corneum water content falls below 10%.Our outer skin layer called epidermis contains sebaceous glands. The amount of fat in the outer layer plays an important role in retaining water and making the skin look supple and hydrated. Apart from external factors that can cause the loss of moisture and oil from the skin, internal causes can be
- In elderly individual – skin becomes thinner and drier due to age.
- Medical conditions – skin diseases and some autoimmune conditions
- If ones had an attack of eczema (atopic dermatitis) previously, then one may have dry skin.
- Psoriasis can cause your skin to dry up with the build-up of dry scaly dead skin cells.
- Hypothyroidism – with less thyroid hormone, sweat and oil glands do not work efficiently resulting in dry skin.
When the skin loses moisture and oil, the supple and elastic qualities that were present become decreased and your skin becomes tight and stiff. External factors decreasing the water retaining capacity are
- Excessive, harsh soaps and shampoos.
- Too long exposure to water – long swims or long showers.
- Dry climate.
- Cold weather.
- Artificially heated indoors dry the skin.
- Prolonged sun exposure.
- Exposure to chemicals, sanitizers frequently.
Calling for medical help
When the skin is not adequately hydrated and becomes dry, it can become cracked, inflamed. Too much dryness can irritate and cause the skin to peel. Dry skin is always itchy. Sometimes the skin will feel very itchy but without any apparent rash. In case itchy dry skin interferes with your sleeping, you must reach for medical help.
- Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leperology – Dry skin conditions, eczema and emollients in their management (K Siddappa) view
- Mayo Clinic – Dry Skin view
- American Association of Dermatology – Dry Skin view
- Net Doctor – Facts on Dry Skin view
- Medicine net – Dry skin view
- U.S. National Library of Medicine – Dry Skin view
- WebMD – Cosmetic Procedures for Skin Care view