Dry Skin: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Dry skin is a condition in which low water levels or oil in the skin can create a tight, uncomfortable feeling, among other symptoms. Dry skin is common, though it can sometimes be a sign of more significant health issues.

This article covers the symptoms, types, and causes of dry mouth, diagnosis and treatment of dry skin, and when to get help for dry skin.

Woman applying lotion to dry skin

DjordjeDjurdjevic / Getty Images

Symptoms of Dry Skin

The most common symptoms of dry skin are:

  • Tight or rough skin
  • Skin peeling or flaking
  • Itching
  • Cracked skin that sometimes bleeds
  • Scales on the skin

Causes of Dry Skin

There are several reasons why someone could have dry skin, including:

  • Aging
  • Dry air from cold weather or desert climates or indoor heating or air conditioning
  • Long baths or showers or bathing too often, which can strip the skin of oils that retain moisture
  • Soaps, harsh detergents, and harsh chemicals like alcohol

Some underlying health issues that can cause dry skin include:

What Medications Can Cause Dry Skin?

There are several medications that may cause dry skin as a side effect, including:

  • Isotretinoin (Accutane): This acne drug depletes oils from the skin, which can cause dryness.
  • Antacids: Antacids require high amounts of moisture to be active in the body.
  • Statins: Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs, and they can reduce the amount of fat stored in the skin, which leads to dryness.
  • Chemotherapy: Dry skin is one of the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Dry Skin

At times, untreated dry skin can lead to various forms of eczema, including:

  • Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis): When the skin reacts to triggers like chemicals or fabrics by getting red, itchy, and flaky
  • Asteatotic eczema: Red, flaky skin that is more commonly seen in older adults, usually at the shins
  • Discoid eczema: A type of eczema common in those who bathe too often, and that includes dry, flaky discs on the skin.

Untreated dry skin could also lead to itchy skin and infections if the skin's surface is not strong enough to protect the body. Persistent dry skin could also indicate an undiagnosed health issue, like an under-active thyroid or blood sugar problems. It could also indicate an autoimmune disorder like psoriasis.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Dry Skin?

If your dry skin seems untreatable, a healthcare provider might consider the following to diagnose your condition:

  • Family history
  • Whether skin was dry at birth
  • Type and location of dryness
  • Signs of eczema
  • Bathing and grooming habits
  • Environment
  • Medications

Your healthcare provider might also run tests to diagnose any underlying issues causing your dry skin, including:

  • A skin biopsy to test for skin disorders and infections
  • A blood test to test for disorders like diabetes, kidney disease, or low thyroid

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Seek medical attention for dry skin if:


  • You are itchy but have no rash.
  • You cannot sleep because of your skin's dryness or itchiness
  • You are scratching to the point of sores
  • Home remedies like moisturizing and staying hydrated do not seem to help.


How to Treat and Prevent Dry Skin

Moisturizing daily and often, preferably while skin is still damp, is the most common way to treat and prevent dry skin. Other ways to treat or prevent dry skin include:

  • Using mild soaps with moisturizing ingredients
  • Avoiding alcohol-based products and other strong chemicals, like harsh detergents
  • Moisturizing with ceramides
  • Using lukewarm instead of hot water for bathing and bathing once a day
  • Using a humidifier
  • Drinking more water to stay hydrated
  • Identifying dry skin triggers, like soaps or fabrics

If your dry skin can't be treated at home, you might talk to your healthcare provider about:

  • Prescription topical steroid creams for dry and itchy areas
  • Treating health problems that cause dry skin, like hypothyroidism, diabetes, or psoriasis
  • Any medications you're taking, in case dry skin is a side effect

Summary

Dry skin is when the skin lacks moisture because of low oil or water. It can be caused by aging, weather, bathing too often, harsh soaps and chemicals, or underlying issues like eczema, psoriasis, low thyroid, diabetes, and other conditions.

Treating dry skin can include moisturizing several times a day, avoiding hot showers or baths that are too long, staying hydrated, using a humidifier, and treating any underlying health issues that could cause dry skin. It's also important to test for undiagnosed health issues that can cause dry skin.

If dry skin cannot be treated at home, or if itchiness occurs without a rash, it's advised to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider will likely ask about family and medical history and examine the skin. A blood test could also be needed in case of a more serious illness.

A Word From Verywell

Dry skin can affect how we feel about ourselves, but the good news is that it's largely treatable at home. Thicker lotions, keeping bathing water lukewarm, avoiding harsh soaps, and staying hydrated are simple ways to get softer skin at a low cost.

If your dry skin doesn't seem to go away, it's important to consider underlying health issues, like low thyroid or diabetes. However, these conditions are treatable, and with the proper treatment, you can get back to soft skin in good time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is my skin always dry?

    Bathing too often or in water that is too hot, using harsh soaps and detergents, not moisturizing after bathing, and being dehydrated can all cause dry skin. Aging is another factor since our skin loses oil and water as we get older. An underlying health issue, including a mineral deficiency, a thyroid disorder, diabetes, or psoriasis, could also be why your skin is always dry.

  • Is Dry Skin Dangerous?

    Dry skin is usually easily treatable at home. However, if dry skin persists, what could make it dangerous is either a lack of protection from irritants in the environment if skin is flakey or an undiagnosed health issue. Some conditions that dry skin could be masking are hypothyroidism, the autoimmune disorder psoriasis, diabetes, mineral deficiencies, and kidney disease.

  • How do I get rid of dry skin?

    Moisturizing often, not bathing too often or with hot water (use lukewarm water instead), drinking water regularly, avoiding harsh soaps and chemicals, and using a humidifier could help with dry skin. Getting tested by a healthcare provider and treating the underlying disorder could be key to treating dry skin if yours does not seem to respond to home remedies.

19 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Neha Kashyap
Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News. Neha enjoys writing about mental health, elder care, innovative health care technologies, paying for health care, and simple measures that we all can take to work toward better health.