Dry skin – a Dermatologist’s tips by Dr Dray

by | Dec 4, 2023 | Blog, Eczema, Itchy, skincare

Dry skin

Dry skin feels dry to the touch because of a lack of moisturer in the outer cell layer (stratum corneum).  This results in cracks in the skin surface, scaly skin, redness, and an impaired skin barrier.  The dry and impaired skin barrier loses water very easily and becomes very itchy.  Because the skin is itchy, there is an intense desire to scratch.  Scratching, unfortunately, further disrupts the skin barrier and results in  persistent dry, inflammed, itchy skin.

Ask Dr Dray about dry skin

Who gets dry skin?

Dry skin affects men and women of all ages.  Many things in our environment can contribute to a bout of dry skin:

  • Low humidity: dry climates, windy conditions
  • Excessive air conditioning
  • Direct heat from a fire or fan heater
  • Excessive bathing, especially with hot water
  • Contact with harsh soap, detergents and solvents
  • Frictional irritation from rough fabrics, body loofahs, and abrasive scrubs

There is often a family history of dry skin and certain inherited genes can play a role in an individual’s susceptibility to dry skin.

Dry skin is a very common problem in people with atopic dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by patches of itchy, dry, red, and inflamed skin.

dermatologists tips for dry skin dr dray eczema on legs ICD 10 L20.9

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) characterized by itchy patches of red, inflamed, dry skin.


As we age, our skin becomes more prone to dryness, and nearly everyone over the age of 60 has dry skin. Dry skin that begins later in life may also occur in certain diseases and conditions, including the following:

  • With certain medications: isotretinion (accutane), acitretin (soriatane), hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide, lisinopril, captopril, losartan, amlodipine, and certain types of chemotherapy.
  • After menopause
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Dermatitis
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Malnutrition

Ask Dr Dray about dry skin

Specific Causes and Risk Factors Leading to Dry Skin

  1. Stratum Corneum Dehydration: The outermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, can lose moisture due to environmental factors, leading to a compromised skin barrier. This moisture loss is often due to decreased production of natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) and lipids like ceramides, which help retain skin moisture.
  2. Sebum Reduction: Reduced sebum production, particularly in older adults or due to certain medical conditions, can lead to a lack of natural oils that help keep the skin moisturized.
  3. Impaired Skin Barrier Function: External factors like harsh soaps and chemicals can strip the skin of its natural oils, disrupting the skin barrier and leading to increased moisture loss.

Risk Factors:

  1. Age: Older adults are more prone to dry skin as the skin loses elasticity and oil glands become less efficient.
  2. Gender: Hormonal differences can influence skin dryness, with women experiencing more fluctuations due to menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause.
  3. Lifestyle Habits: Smoking, poor diet, and insufficient water intake can contribute to skin dehydration.
  4. Occupations: Jobs involving regular exposure to water, chemicals, or harsh environmental conditions (like healthcare, cleaning, and outdoor work) increase the risk of dry skin.


Detailed Description of Symptoms in Different Stages

  1. Mild Dryness: Characterized by a feeling of tightness and slight roughness of the skin.
  2. Moderate Dryness: Visible flakiness, dullness, and more pronounced rough texture.
  3. Severe Dryness: Development of cracks, redness, deep lines, and possible bleeding; increased risk of eczema or infections due to broken skin.


Variation in Different Body Areas:

  • Face and Hands: Often show symptoms first due to frequent exposure to environmental factors and cleansing products.
  • Lower Legs and Arms: Common areas for flakiness and scaling, especially in colder months.
  • Elbows and Knees: Tend to develop thicker, more severely dry patches due to joint movement and pressure.


Dry skin care tips

Eliminate aggravating factors.

  • Reduce frequency of bathing.
  • Use a humidifier in the bedroom.
  • Use lukewarm, not hot, water, to bathe.
  • Replace standard soap with a substitute such as a moisturizing bath oil (examples below).
  • Avoid harsh scrubs and loofahs.
  • Apply a moisturizer liberally and often, particularly shortly after bathing, and when itchy.
  • Choose a thicker moisturizing cream (examples below) for use immediately after bathing.  Apply the cream to wet, rather than dry, skin so as to seal water in the skin and reduce evaporative water loss from the skin.
  • Choose a light-weight moisturizing lotion for use and re-application throughout the day (examples below).
  • For particularly stubborn patches of dry skin, such as on the hands, select an occlusive moisturizing ointment (examples below).



Moisturizers for dry skin

Cetaphil moisturizing cream http://amzn.to/2icKzUW

Vanicream moisturizing skin cream http://amzn.to/2id2RFQ

Eucerin original healing cream https://iherb.co/jkcbenQ

Eucerin eczema relief cream https://iherb.co/3Pw1xruu

Avon moisture therapy cream https://goo.gl/DWbpG6

Vanicream lite lotion http://amzn.to/2yzCwIg

Eucerin daily hydration lotion https://iherb.co/3EMqE2C1

Eucerin skin calming cream https://iherb.co/4nSek5Js

Cerave moisturizing lotion https://iherb.co/4rJeSghx

Curel fragrance free moisturizing lotion http://amzn.to/2hnrBKK

Cliniderm moisturizing lotion http://amzn.to/2yxu6kG

DML moisturizing lotion http://amzn.to/2hqIqo2

Avon moisture therapy lotion https://goo.gl/BLKVgB

Aquaphor ointment http://amzn.to/2zF6he9

Cerave healing ointment http://amzn.to/2hwYbxt

Vaniply ointment http://amzn.to/2iejktx

Vaseline ointment http://amzn.to/2yzEgBi


Body washes for dry skin

Cerave eczema soothing body wash http://amzn.to/2yzpBGa

Eucerin skin calming dry skin body wash oil http://amzn.to/2AHa08M

Cetaphil restoraderm eczema body wash http://amzn.to/2AG0rHt

Eau Thermale Avene Xeracalm cleansing oil http://amzn.to/2ibp7Qi


Facial moisturizers for dry skin

Cerave moisturizing cream http://amzn.to/2yXNyLI

Cetaphil redness relieving night moisturizer http://amzn.to/2ADKph3

Eucerin sensitive skin night cream http://amzn.to/2yxYN9f

La Roche Posay Toleriane Riche face cream http://amzn.to/2yzFBbe


Humidifiers for dry skin

Honeywell Cool Mist Germ Free Humidifier http://amzn.to/2AFTTbA

Vicks Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier http://amzn.to/2yAqA9f


Ask Dr Dray about dry skin

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  2. Zouboulis CC. Sebaceous gland receptors. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009;1(2):77-80. doi:10.4161/derm.1.2.7804
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  4. Lodén M. Role of topical emollients and moisturizers in the treatment of dry skin barrier disorders. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(11):771-788. doi:10.2165/00128071-200304110-00005
  5. Rawlings AV, Harding CR. Moisturization and skin barrier function. Dermatol Ther. 2004;17 Suppl 1:43-48. doi:10.1111/j.1396-0296.2004.04s1005.x
  6. Balbás GM, Regaña MS, Millet PU. Study on the use of omega-3 fatty acids as a therapeutic supplement in treatment of psoriasis. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2011;4:73-77. doi:10.2147/CCID.S17220
  7. Proksch E, Nissen HP, Bremgartner M, Urquhart C. Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin. Int J Dermatol. 2005;44(2):151-157. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2005.02079.x
  8. Fourtanier A, Moyal D, Seité S. Sunscreens containing the broad-spectrum UVA absorber, Mexoryl SX, prevent the cutaneous detrimental effects of UV exposure: a review of clinical study results. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2008;24(4):164-174. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0781.2008.00365.x

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