Dry skin

Ordinarily, dry skin isn't serious, but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly, creating fine lines and wrinkles.

Serious dry skin conditions — an inherited group of disorders called ichthyosis — can sometimes be disfiguring and upsetting. Fortunately, environmental factors that can be at least partially controlled cause most dry skin. These factors include hot or cold weather, low humidity and soaking in hot water.

Chronic or severe dry skin problems may require evaluation by a doctor who specializes in skin (dermatologist). But first you can do a lot on your own to improve your skin, including using moisturizers and avoiding harsh, drying soaps.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Dry skin is often temporary — you get it only in winter, for example — but it may be a lifelong condition. And although skin is often driest on your arms and lower legs, this varies from person to person. What's more, signs and symptoms of dry skin depend on your age, your health, where you live, time spent outdoors and the cause of the problem.

Dry skin is likely to cause one or more of the following:

  • A feeling of skin tightness, especially after showering, bathing or swimming
  • Skin that feels and looks rough
  • Itching (pruritus)
  • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
  • Fine lines or cracks
  • Gray, ashy skin in people with dark skin
  • Redness
  • Deep cracks that may bleed

When to see a doctor

Most cases of dry skin respond well to lifestyle and home remedies. See your doctor if:

  • Your skin doesn't improve in spite of your best efforts
  • Dry skin is accompanied by redness
  • Dryness and itching interfere with sleeping
  • You have open sores or infections from scratching
  • You have large areas of scaling or peeling skin

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