Dry skin is a common condition in which the outer layer of skin, the stratum corneum, does not produce or retain sufficient moisture. It is particularly prevalent during the winter months, due to lower humidity outdoors and exposure to wind. When facial skin is particularly dry, there may be accompanying itching, redness, scaling and even cracks or fissures in the skin. The majority of cases of dry, flaky skin respond well to preventive lifestyle measures and simple home remedies.
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The American Academy of Dermatology notes that the number one extrinsic cause of skin aging is exposure to damaging rays from the sun; and one of the primary symptoms of aging skin is a dry, dull appearance. Protecting skin from such sun damage is as simple as wearing sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 every day, year round, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat outdoors. Harsh cleansers, perfumed products and soaps, as well as exposure to very hot water can also dry out skin, and should be avoided.
One of the primary treatments for dry, scaly skin is to use a moisturizer on the affected areas two to four times per day. Particularly when used after bathing or washing your face, moisturizers help seal water into the skin's outer layer, the stratum corneum, reducing both itching and flaking. Moisturizers are available in three main types of preparations: lotions, creams and ointments. The Mayo Clinic notes that thicker products including heavy creams or ointments provide the most staying power and do not need to be applied as frequently. A pharmacist can assist you in choosing an appropriate type of facial moisturizer.
Lactic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid that is derived from milk. It is able to penetrate the skin, removing the top layer of dead, dull skin to reveal the fresher, smoother skin that lie just beneath. Lactic acid is available in a variety of preparations, from in-office facial peels to home kits and moisturizers.
Hydrocortisone is a topical anti-inflammatory steroid that is available in preparations in both over-the-counter and prescription strength, and can help control itching in severe cases of dry, flaky skin. While it is safe to use hydrocortisone at home for short-term relief, it should only be used for longer periods under the direction of a physician.
Although most cases of dry skin are mild and respond well to preventive and home measures, severe dryness and flaking can be signs of more serious skin conditions, such as eczema or dermatitis. See a doctor if dry, flaking skin persists year-round and does not respond to treatment at home, as well as if skin develops fissures or cracks that bleed.