Why Is My Skin So Dry?

Dry skin is what happens when your skin doesn't get enough moisture. It can cause scaling, cracking, and discomfort. Dry skin often occurs on the hands, legs, and feet, but you could develop it anywhere. Dry skin can have many potential causes.

This article will cover the symptoms of dry skin, types of dry skin, common causes, and how to get rid of dry skin.

lotion on skin

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Dry Skin Symptoms

Dry skin can cause several symptoms. Here are some other symptoms associated with dry skin:

  • A rough skin texture
  • Cracking in the skin (it's possible that these cracks will bleed as they become deeper)
  • Itchiness
  • Pain where the skin is itchy
  • Peeling of the skin
  • A stinging or burning feeling in the skin
  • Infections (these may occur because dry skin will have breaks in it, allowing germs to get inside)
  • Wrinkled, loose skin

Types of Dry Skin

Although having some dry skin is normal, there are certain skin conditions that are known to cause dry skin. Here are some of them.


Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition associated with:

  • Blisters
  • Dry skin
  • Skin infections
  • Rough skin patches

About 31 million Americans have eczema, according to the National Eczema Association. Eczema can present in young babies, during childhood, or in adulthood.


Psoriasis is a disease that causes raised plaques and scales on the skin. Although the cause isn't clear, it's related to inflammation and the immune system not working as it should.

The raised areas of skin most commonly appear on the:

  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Scalp

In addition to dry, itchy skin, other symptoms of psoriasis include swelling and joint stiffness.

There are more than 7.5 million adults with psoriasis in the U.S.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inherited condition that causes inflammation of the skin's upper layers. In infants, it's often referred to as cradle cap. It can occur in adulthood as well, and at that point, it's referred to as dandruff.

Symptoms associated with seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Dry or greasy scales on the scalp
  • Scalp itchiness
  • A yellow or red scaly rash on the scalp or head

Hormonal changes and cold weather can make seborrheic dermatitis worse.

What Causes Dry Skin?

Dry skin can have many potential causes. Sometimes, the cause is obvious. Other times, figuring out why you have dry skin may take some sleuthing.

Here are some of dry skin's potential causes:

  • Age. It's normal for the skin to become drier over time, especially after age 40.
  • Getting treated for cancer. Dry skin can be a side effect of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Using certain medications, such as diuretics and statins (statins are drugs that treat cholesterol).
  • Living in cold, wintry weather. The cold can dry out the skin.
  • Receiving kidney dialysis. This is because dialysis removes extra moisture from your body.
  • Taking hot showers.
  • Using soaps or harsh cleaners that remove oil from the skin.

Dry Skin in the Winter

Even if you rarely deal with dry skin, you may find you have some dry areas in the wintertime. That's because the humidity is often lower in the winter months, both outside and indoors when using heating. Wintertime dry skin can happen to people of all ages, no matter what their usual skin type is.

You may get by using lotion to keep your skin moisturized during the rest of the year. In the winter, you may have to switch to an ointment or cream to moisturize dry skin. Ointments and creams will be more effective for treating dry skin.

Risk Factors for Dry Skin

Certain risk factors can increase the chance that you may develop dry skin. Those include:

  • Being over the age of 40 (after age 40, your body produces less sebum, an oil that keeps the skin soft)
  • Being HIV-positive
  • Having black or brown skin
  • Having certain chronic health conditions, like diabetes or thyroid disease
  • Having fair skin
  • Having certain skin conditions that are associated with very dry skin (such as eczema and psoriasis)
  • Having certain nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, zinc, or iron
  • Smoking

Dry Skin Complications

Dry skin is usually treatable and not serious. One potential complication is the chance of an infection. This could happen because the cracks created by dry skin can permit bacteria or other organisms to enter.

Another potential complication of dry skin is itching or thickened patches of skin if you have dry skin for a long time.

Dry skin won't lead to a chronic condition, but certain health conditions may have dry skin as a common complication. These include diabetes, thyroid disease, and psoriasis.

How to Get Rid of Dry Skin

With the discomfort that dry skin can cause, you will most likely want to find relief. There are many different moisturizing choices out there, and figuring out which are best for dry skin can get confusing. An ointment or cream is a better choice than a lotion because ointments and creamers are more effective for dry skin and less irritating.

Thicker ointments or creams should help dry skin more than thinner ones. Look for an ointment or cream that contains at least one of the following:

  • Dimethicone
  • Glycerin
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Jojoba oil
  • Lactic acid
  • Lanolin
  • Mineral oil
  • Petrolatum
  • Shea butter

Other measures you can take to treat dry skin can include:

  • Look for fragrance-free skin care products. Fragranced products may be too irritating for dry skin. Instead, look for products that say they are fragrance-free. Keep in mind that fragrance-free and unscented are not the same thing. Unscented products may have chemicals that hide odors, and those chemicals can still bother the skin. They can also remove oils that help the skin, which is why you want to look for a fragrance-free label.
  • Use warm (not hot) water in baths and showers. Limit your bathing time to five to 10 minutes, to lower your exposure to water temperature that may dry out the skin.
  • Use your ointment or cream immediately after bathing or washing your hands. This is the ideal time to retain the existing moisture on your skin. To cut down on a greasy look or feel, put the product in your hands and rub it in until your hands and the affected area no longer feel greasy.
  • Buy a humidifier, if needed. If you live or work in an area with low humidity, you may need a humidifier to add more moisture to the air. In addition to portable humidifiers, you can find out if your home heating system has a humidifier.

Preventing Dry Skin

If you know you're prone to dry skin or if you want to stop dry skin problems before they occur, there are a few preventive measures you can take. Use moisturizer daily, stick with short lukewarm showers or baths, avoid sitting near drying heat sources (like fireplaces), and use fragrance-free skin products. It's always a good idea to drink plenty of water as well because hydrating will benefit your whole body.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your skin continues to itch and feel irritated even after using over-the-counter products, it's time to let a healthcare provider know. This may include seeing a dermatologist. It could be that you need a stronger product to help your dry skin. That your dry skin is a sign of something else, like a chronic skin condition, is another possibility.


Dry skin can cause scaling, cracking, and irritation. It results from aging, cold weather, taking certain medications, and having certain chronic conditions. You're more prone to dry skin if you are over the of age 40, have black or brown skin (or fair skin), and if you smoke. Some ways to get rid of dry skin include applying ointments or creams (regularly and also after you bathe) and using fragrance-free skin products. You should see a health provider, like a dermatologist, for dry skin if you try over-the-counter products and still have dry skin irritation or concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Vaseline good for dry skin?

    Yes. Also called petroleum jelly, Vaseline has been an inexpensive way to help dry skin for a long time. Applying Vaseline when your skin is damp, like right after you bathe or shower is best. If you have acne-prone skin, avoid using it on your face. It may lead to more breakouts.

  • What do dermatologists recommend for very dry skin?

    Moisturize after you take a shower, shower after swimming (to remove irritating pool chemicals), and talk to your health provider about the use of flaxseed or fish oil supplements. Apply ointments or creams regularly, including after you wash your hands.

  • What deficiency causes dry skin?

    Vitamin deficiencies that can cause dry skin include vitamins D and A. Deficiencies in niacin, iron, or zinc can also cause dry skin.

11 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.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dry skin: signs and symptoms.

  2. National Eczema Association. What is eczema?

  3. National Psoriasis Foundation. About psoriasis.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Seborrheic dermatitis.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dry skin: who gets it and causes.

  6. American Cancer Society. Dry skin.

  7. National Kidney Foundation. Dialysis: Dry, itchy skin.

  8. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Winter dry skin.

  9. Harvard Health Publishing. 9 ways to banish dry skin.

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dermatologists' top tips for relieving dry skin.

  11. University of Utah Health. When should you see a dermatologist?

By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.