Read below about dry skin, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your dry skin from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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.

Dry skin characteristics:

  • Skinis scaly, rough, and flaky.
  • The dry skin may appear as a fine gray "ashy" layer if you have a dark skin tone.

Dry skin symptom duration:

  • 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.
  • Medical providers, who are constantly washing their hands.
  • Anyone routinely working outside.

Where in the world are these dry skin symptoms most common?

  • Hot, dry climates.
  • Cold, dry climates.

When are dry skin symptoms most likely to occur?

  • Outdoors in winter, due to the naturally drier air.
  • Indoors in winter, due to furnaces being in use and blowing hot, dry air.

Are dry skin symptoms serious?

  • A mild case of dry skin may simply be uncomfortable,
  • Extremely dry skin may crack and allow bacteria to enter. This can lead to itching, rash, irritation, and infection of your skin layers.
  • Reddened sore spots, especially after constant scratching, indicate the presence of bacteria. Once this redness and soreness appears, your condition may worsen quickly.

Dry Skin Causes Overview

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:

  • 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:

  • Hairdressers, because they work with shampoos, dyes, and other chemical solutions.
  • Medical providers, because they must constantly wash their hands with antiseptic soap.
  • Anyone working outdoors with exposure to weather, construction materials, vegetation, etc.

Less common dry skin causes:

  • Bacterial or fungal infections.
  • Inherited conditions.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Dry Skin

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced dry skin. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.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.

    Days with treatment

    Top Symptoms:
    dry skin
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of dry skin:
    dry skin
  2. 2.Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

    Eczema is a form of skin inflammation that causes skin to be dry, itchy, red, and irritated.

    This is a long-term, recurring condition but symptoms are manageable with care.

    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, feeling itchy or tingling all over, dry skin, scalp itchiness, flexor surface rash
    Symptoms that never occur with eczema (atopic dermatitis):
    Phone call or in-person visit
  3. 3.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Primary care doctor

    Dry Skin Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having dry skin.

    Dry Skin Quiz
  4. 4.Dehydration

    Dehydration occurs when the body does not have fluid to function properly, because of decreased intake or increased losses like vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of dehydration include extreme thirst, dark urine, fatigue, and dizziness.

    With rehydration, symptoms resolve completely.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, dizziness, vomiting or diarrhea, racing heart beat, being severely ill
    Hospital emergency room
  5. 5.Irritant Contact Dermatitis

    Contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes red, sore, or inflamed after direct contact with a substance. This condition most often affects skin of the hands, and may occur after repeated and prolonged exposure to substances such as water, detergents (soaps, bleach), solvents (such as gasoline), acids, powders, dust, and soil. The onset of the skin reaction is usually within 48 hours of coming in contact with the substance.

    1-2 days.

    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
  6. 6.Topical Steroid Withdrawal

    Topical steroids are used for a variety of skin conditions, especially eczema (atopic dermatitis), but is frequently used in situations that are not approved by a physician. In these situations, there is a likelihood of "withdrawal", skin changes caused by heavy use of the steroids.

    The outcomes of topical steroid withdrawal are unknown

    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    red-colored skin changes, itchy rash, dry skin, painful rash, light red or pink bump on skin
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.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.

    Problem should go away with home care within weeks.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
    Primary care doctor

Dry Skin Treatments and Relief

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.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Chronically itchy, dry skin with reddened patches that may 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.
  • A physician can prescribe medicated creams, usually containing corticosteroids to promote healing, for skin that is broken and cracking simply from dryness.
  • 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.

Dry skin remedies that you can do at home:

  • 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, for bathing.
  • Change work habits if possible, to avoid getting irritating or drying substances on your skin.
  • Wear protective gloves when working.

FAQs About Dry Skin

Here are some frequently asked questions 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

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Are you itchy all over?
  • Q.Did you possibly brush into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our dry skin symptom checker to find out more.

Dry Skin Quiz

Dry Skin Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced dry skin have also experienced:

    • 16% Vaginal Itch or Burning
    • 4% Feeling Itchy or Tingling All Over
    • 2% Vaginal Discharge
  • People who have experienced dry skin were most often matched with:

    • 50% Hypothyroidism
    • 33% Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
    • 16% Normal Occurrence of Dry Skin
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having dry skin

Dry Skin Quiz