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Dry skin symptoms cause the skin to become scaly, rough & flaky. Every part of the body can be affected by dry skin including the penis, eyes & face. Learn more.
Dry skin symptoms
A simple case of dry skin may not sound serious, but if it is not cleared up quickly it can have a profound effect on your daily life. That's because your skin is the barrier or the point of contact between you and the rest of the world.
Overly dry skin can make you feel self-conscious about wearing swimsuits or summer clothes and can interfere with your intimate relationships. In extreme cases, the dryness and the damage it causes can lead to bacterial or fungal infections that may become chronic if not treated. Yet ordinary dry skin can almost always be corrected with the proper care and attention.
Common characteristics of dry skin
If you're experiencing dry skin, it can likely be described as:
- Scaly, rough, and flaky
- Gray if you have dark skin: The dry skin may appear as a fine gray "ashy" layer if you have a dark skin tone.
Duration of symptoms
Dry skin can affect anyone, especially over age 40 and young kids. A person prone to skin inflammations as a child may have very dry skin as an adult.
Who is most often affected by dry skin symptoms?
Anyone working at a job which requires exposure to chemicals, especially exposing their hands, is likely to experience dry skin. Medical providers, who are constantly washing their hands, and anyone routinely working outside are also susceptible.
When are dry skin symptoms most likely to occur?
Dry skin symptoms are more likely during colder months due to drier outside air as well as indoor heating elements drying the air inside.
Are dry skin symptoms serious?
The severity of your dry skin is ultimately dependent on the cause.
- Not serious: A mild case of dry skin may simply be uncomfortable,
- Moderately serious: Extremely dry skin may crack and allow bacteria to enter. This can lead to itching, rash, irritation, and infection of your skin layers.
- Serious: Reddened sore spots, especially after constant scratching, indicate the presence of bacteria. Once this redness and soreness appears, your condition may worsen quickly.
Causes of dry skin
Dry skin is really just a simple loss of oil and water from the upper layers of your skin. Many conditions can have dry skin as a symptom, and the most common are those involving environmental, chemical, bacterial, or fungal causes.
Environmental dry skin causes
Dry skin may occur due to environment you're in, such as:
- Desert climates
- Excessive sun exposure
- Swimming: Either in chlorinated pools or in fresh or salt water
- Places with long, cold winters
Chemical dry skin causes
Your skin may dry out due to certain things you are exposed to from work or other activities.
- Hairdressers: Due to shampoos, dyes, and other chemical solutions
- Medical providers: Due to antiseptic soap
- Anyone working outdoors: Who are exposed to weather, construction materials, vegetation, etc.
Less common dry skin causes
Bacterial or fungal infections and inherited conditions may also result in dry skin.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Normal occurrence of dry skin
Dry skin can be caused by overheating during the winter or air conditioning in the summer, the loss of sweat and oil glands as you get older, and overuse of things like soap, antiperspirant, perfumes, and hot baths.
Top Symptoms: dry skin
Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of dry skin: dry skin
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family hi..
Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.
The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.
Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.
Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.
Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Dehydration means the body does not have enough water to carry out its normal processes.
Most susceptible to serious dehydration are young children with fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. In adults, some medications increase urination and can lead to dehydration. Anyone exercising vigorously, especially in hot weather, can quickly become dehydrated.
Symptoms include extreme thirst; dry mouth; infrequent, dark-colored urine; dizziness; and confusion. Young children may have sunken eyes, cheeks, and soft spot on top of the skull.
Severe dehydration is a serious medical emergency that can lead to heat stroke, kidney damage, seizures, coma, and death. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through blood tests and urine tests.
Mild dehydration can be treated simply by drinking extra water, or water with electrolytes such as sports drinks. More serious cases may be hospitalized for intravenous fluids.
It's important for anyone who is outside in hot weather, or who is ill, to drink extra fluids even before feeling thirsty as thirst is not always a reliable guide.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, dizziness, vomiting or diarrhea, racing heart beat, being severely ill
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Irritant contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.
Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.
Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.
Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.
A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.
Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.
Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
Topical steroid withdrawal is a skin condition that can develop when someone uses potent topical steroids frequently and for a long time. The condition can manifest within days to weeks after you stop using topical steroids, or it can manifest as a worsening ..
Low calcium level
Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Dry skin treatments and relief
When dry skin is an emergency
Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if your dry skin has become cracked, broken, reddened, swollen, and draining, especially if there is also fever and pain.
When to see a doctor for dry skin
You should schedule an appointment for:
- Chronically itchy, dry skin with reddened patches: Especially if these become raw from scratching. It often begins in infancy. It should be seen by a medical provider to manage symptoms and prevent bacterial skin infection.
- Dry skin along with depression, ongoing fatigue, feeling cold, weight gain, brittle nails, and hair loss
- Itchy, irritated dry skin in the presence of fatigue, memory problems, anxiety, depression, and body pain with hypersensitive nerves
- A stubborn, itchy rash of scaly red circles with clear centers
- Itching and irritation of the vagina and vulva in women: If your skin or membranes are damaged from scratching, microbes can gain access through your broken skin and cause further irritation or, sometimes, an infection.
- For medicated creams: A physician can prescribe medicated creams, usually containing corticosteroids to promote healing, for skin that is broken and cracking simply from dryness.
- To assess for a skin disease: Some cases of "dry skin" may actually be a skin disease. If your skin condition does not clear up quickly on its own, or after a short course of self-treatment with over-the-counter moisturizing lotion, you should see your medical provider.
At-home treatments for dry skin
Dry skin remedies that you can try at home include the following.
- Use a good moisturizer: Skin that feels mildly tight, itchy, and rough is not unusual and can be treated at home with the regular use of over-the-counter moisturizers.
- Wash gently with warm water instead of with hot water
- Use only very mild cleansers: Such as baby washes and shampoos
- Change work habits if possible: Try to avoid getting irritating or drying substances on your skin
- Wear protective gloves when working
FAQs about dry skin
What causes dry skin?
Dry skin can be caused by dry environment, frequent exposure to water/soaps/detergent, and aging. It can also result from skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, and is often associated with diseases such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Sjogren syndrome. Certain medications can also make skin dry.
Why causes dry itchy skin?
Dryness can cause itchy skin, especially in older adults and in people living in northern climates where home heating during the winter results in very low home humidity. Sometimes dryness can also trigger a skin condition called atopic dermatitis or eczema, which is quite itchy. We currently do not know exactly what causes eczema.
What can you do for extremely dry skin?
Mild cleansers such as synthetic detergent (e.g. Dove, Olay, Cetaphil) tend to be less irritating than traditional soaps. Daily use of moisturizers (containing ingredients such as glycerin/urea) and/or petrolatum (in Vaseline) can promote skin hydration and should be applied after bathing and drying of the skin. Topical application of mineral oil also shows benefits. Always use lukewarm or warm water for bathing and avoid excessive/aggressive skin washing. A humidifier may help too by increasing indoor humidity.
Why is dry skin associated with cold weather?
The cold, dry windy weather is one culprit for causing dry skin, and home heating also results in very low relative humidity, drawing moisture away from the skin.
When might dry skin be a sign of a more serious condition?
Dry skin can be concerning if dryness persists despite your best efforts. It can also be a sign of underlying conditions if it is accompanied by additional concerning symptoms, such as weight loss/gain, fatigue, cold intolerance, dry mouth/eyes, redness of the skin, development of rashes, changes in skin texture, and intense itching.
Questions your doctor may ask about dry skin
- Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Are you itchy all over?
- Did you possibly brush into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Janeen has worked over eight years as a full-time medical transcriptionist, specializing in pain management and gynecologic oncology. She later began transcribing reports for hospital emergency rooms and acute care admissions. This background gave her a strong medical vocabulary as well as a heart for making medical information accessible to the average person, leading her to work as a medical writer. She began as a pre-veterinary medicine major at Texas State University.