Very dry skin is often blamed on hot, dry climates or cold, winter weather, but it can be a problem even in humid climates. Although extremely dry skin is rarely a serious medical condition, it is uncomfortable and often causes chapping, itching and flaking. Pinpointing the possible cause is the first step towards finding a solution.
Age and Genetics
As the skin ages, it produces fewer oil and sweat glands, resulting in skin that easily becomes dry. In addition, dry skin often runs in families. Use of thick, heavy, greasy creams and lotions to moisturize dry skin are important, especially after the age of 40. Use sunscreen all year round, even when the weather is cloudy or humid.
Soap and Skin Care Products
Many types of soap and skin care products are extremely drying in any climate because they strip the skin's natural oils. If your skin is dry, avoid soaps and products that contain alcohol, deodorants or fragrances. Instead, look for soap-free skin cleansers and skin products that contain moisturizers. Wash your face at least once every day, because sweat that often occurs in humid climates dries the skin.
Many jobs, including health-care professions, require the hands to be in and out of water all day long. Other jobs expose the hands to detergents, chemicals or soil. As often as possible, protect your hands with rubber or latex gloves. Although anti-bacterial cleansers are often necessary, they are extremely drying. To replace lost oils, use thick moisturizer after every time you wash your hands.
Water may temporarily feel good, but it is extremely drying. Forgo long, hot baths and showers. Instead, use tepid water and limit baths and showers to no more than five to 10 minutes. Short, lukewarm baths and showers are especially critical if you live in a humid climate that necessitates showering more than once daily. Avoid rough loofahs or scrubbers and use soft pads or cloths. Dry your skin gently with a soft towel and never rub. Apply thick lotion or cream to your moist, warm skin immediately after drying. If you swim in chlorinated water, rinse your skin thoroughly, then apply moisturizer.
See your doctor if proper skin care and use of creams and lotions fail to ease your dry skin, if your skin is red, irritated or bleeding or if the itching interferes with sleep. Although dry skin is rarely serious, it can be a symptom of dermatitis -- a form of eczema -- especially if dry skin is located on the neck, face, knees, elbows, wrists and ankles. Flaky, scaly skin may be a sign of psoriasis. Thyroid issues may also cause dry skin.
- University of Wisconsin University Health Services: Dry Skin
- MayoClinic.com: Dry Skin Causes
- The Face and Skin Center at University of Mississippi Health Care: Dry Skin Care
- American Academy of Dermatology: Dry Skin: Who Gets and Causes
- Harvard Medical School Health Publications: Nine Ways to Banish Dry Skin