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.

9 Potential Dry Skin Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.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.

    Rarity:
    Common
    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):
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  2. 2.Chronic Kidney Disease

    Chronic kidney disease, also known as chronic renal failure, is a disorder caused by gradual loss of kidney function. It is most common in elderly individuals.

    This condition cannot be reversed; however, treatment can delay or stop the disease from worsening.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, decreased sex drive, dry skin
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)

    Tinea Corporis is a common fungal infection of the skin. This rash is sometimes called "ringworm" and results in ring-shaped redness that is often itchy.

    With treatment, the rash should resolve within 2-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dry skin, rash, red rash, itchy rash, curved rash
    Symptoms that never occur with ringworm (tinea corporis):
    groin skin changes, fever, scrotal itch, groin itch, facial skin changes, hand skin changes, genital skin changes
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Postpartum Thyroiditis

    The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just above the collarbone, which produces hormones that control how fast calories are burned and how fast the heart beats. Postpartum thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland that occurs in women about 1 year after the delivery of a baby. This condition occurs in two phases. In the first phase, too much thyroid hormone is produced leading to rapid weight loss and a fast heartbeat. After 2-4 months, the second phase begins which may last up to a year, and is characterized by thyroid levels that are too low. Symptoms in the second phase include weight gain, fatigue, depression, and hair loss.

    Usually will resolve itself, but in some cases, lifelong hypothyroidism may develop requiring lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depressed mood, racing heart beat
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Dry Skin Checker

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  5. 5.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

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    dry skin
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of dry skin:
    dry skin
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.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.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.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.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, dizziness, vomiting or diarrhea, racing heart beat, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.Anorexia

    Eating disorders are serious behavioral problems. They can include severe overeating, or not consuming enough food to stay healthy. They also involve extreme concern about your shape or weight. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where people have an intense fear about how their body looks and how much they weigh, leading to severe caloric restriction.

    80% of people will get better with years of effective counseling and therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, decreased sex drive, frequent mood swings
    Symptoms that always occur with anorexia:
    fear of gaining weight
    Symptoms that never occur with anorexia:
    heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    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.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Did you possibly brush into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are you itchy all over?

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

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Dry Skin Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced dry skin have also experienced:

    • 15% Vaginal Itch or Burning
    • 4% Feeling Itchy or Tingling All Over
    • 3% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced dry skin were most often matched with:

    • 35% Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
    • 18% Chronic Kidney Disease
    • 10% Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)
  • 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

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