Dry, flaky skin is not only unattractive and uncomfortable, but it may also be a sign of a more serious condition. Many factors can lead to dry skin, which is often a temporary, easily treated condition. If the dry skin is caused by psoriasis, which is an autoimmune disease, the condition is lifelong and often requires medical attention.
Dry skin is simply skin that looks dehydrated, flaky or cracked, explains the Mayo Clinic. Skin may feel tight and itchy and may appear red. Dry skin occurs most often on the arms and lower legs. Psoriasis causes dry skin, but the skin will have raised red lesions covered with a silvery buildup scale, or dead skin cells, says the National Psoriasis Foundation. Skin affected by psoriasis may burn or feel itchy and tender. Psoriasis may occur anywhere on the body and may consist of small patches or large outbreaks.
Cold weather and lack of humidity frequently cause dry skin, says the Mayo Clinic. Long, hot showers or baths, indoor heating and air conditioning, sun exposure and harsh soaps also dry skin. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. The immune system of people with psoriasis accelerates skin turnover, says the Foundation. Whereas a normal skin cell takes 28 to 30 days to mature, die and slough off, this cycle is compressed into three or four days in a person with psoriasis. Additionally, the dead cells fail to slough off and build up on the skin surface, creating the characteristic lesions.
Moisturizers effectively rehydrate dry skin, notes the Mayo Clinic. Lukewarm baths or showers and humidifiers help dry skin to heal. Treatment for psoriasis must halt the rapid cycling of the skin cells while reducing the inflammation and scales. Topical creams and ointments containing corticosteroids, synthetic vitamin D or other agents are effective for mild outbreaks. More severe or widespread outbreaks may respond to treatment with ultraviolet light, which slows skin cell production. Oral and injectable medications, including retinoids, immunomodulators or methotrexate, may be necessary for controlling severe cases.
Regular use of skin moisturizers helps prevent dry skin. Avoid harsh soaps or products containing detergents, suggests the Mayo Clinic, and use lukewarm water for bathing and showering. Humidifiers add moisture back into indoor air and help keep skin retain moisture. Psoriasis cannot be prevented. The condition cycles between flares lasting weeks or months to periods of remission that may last for years. The cycle of flares and remission is unpredictable, says the Foundation, but certain factors may trigger a flare. Stress, certain medications, skin injuries or weather changes may trigger an outbreak, but triggers vary for each individual.
Dry skin may be temporary, but it may also signal an underlying medical condition. See a health care provider if your dry skin fails to respond to moisturizers and mild cleansers, or if your skin is excessively red or if you have sores or infections from scratching, large areas of peeling skin, or if itching interrupts your sleep, advises the Mayo Clinic.