Close to 100 million people suffer from dry skin in the United States alone, making this a common condition among all age groups. For some, dry skin is a temporary problem, while others battle with this condition their whole lives. The skin is the body’s primary defense against infections. Intact and healthy skin is a very effective barrier against all sorts of bacteria. Cracked, dry skin, on the other hand, cannot provide this protection. This fact alone is reason enough to take a closer look at what causes dry skin patches and how they can be avoided and/or treated. Xerosis, the medical term for this condition, is usually caused by environmental factors or something the patient is doing to his/her skin. Less frequently, a genetic predisposition or other health conditions are to blame for dry skin. Dry skin, if untreated, can sometimes lead to a more serious condition called dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin. Dry, itchy patches of skin are most commonly seen on arms, legs, abdomen, and hands, but can appear anywhere on the body. A thin layer of natural lipids coats healthy skin and traps the moisture. The skin stays hydrated and soft, as long as this thin coat is intact.
Signs and symptoms of dry skin patches
Itching of the skin is the most common sign of dry skin. Patches of skin often appear rough, dry, or red, and are most often accompanied by an intense itchy feeling. Some people develop small, raised, red bumps on their skin as a symptom of dry skin. Severely dry skin can even crack and bleed. Even fissures can evolve in the most severe form of dry skin. The causes for dry skin can be external or internal.
External causes for dry skin include:
- Ineffective use of moisturizers
- Dry air
- Long, hot showers and baths
- Medications and drugs
Moisturizers are a crucial component of a daily skin care routine. They are most effective when applied to damp skin, not dry skin. This is counter intuitive to many people. Most apply moisturizer to dry skin, when it is least effective. The type of moisturizer we use on our skin is important as well. People with dry skin should use moisturizers without perfume and alcohol, as these ingredients tend to dry out the skin even further. A thick and greasy kind is best to seal in the moisture.
Medications and drugs can also influence your skin. Acne medications are known to have side effects like dry skin. Blood pressure medications, diuretics, and other medications can have the same side effect. Letting your doctor know about the side effects you are experiencing will give him a chance to adjust the dosage, or switch you to another medication.Dry air is a major cause for dry skin, particularly during the winter months. The “winter itch” is very common. The dry, warm air in the house essentially sucks the moisture out of the skin. Air conditioners can have a similar effect in the summer months. Humidifiers are very effective to replace the moisture in the air, lost due to heating and cooling. Even though most of us like a long, hot shower or bath, it is one of the worst habits for people who suffer from dry skin. Especially hot water “strips” the skin of the natural oils that would otherwise protect our skin. Lukewarm showers are a much better choice than extended baths. The tight feeling of your skin is a telltale sign that the skin is dried out. Harsh soaps can intensify this problem. Antibacterial soaps and/or deodorant soaps remove not only the dirt, but also strip away any natural oils of the skin. Mild soaps and fragrance-free soaps are a much better choice and serve the same purpose. People with dry skin should also avoid abrasive sponges and scrubbers and use a washcloth instead.
Common internal causes for dry skin include:
A number of medical conditions, some minor, others more serious, can cause the skin to dry out. Eczema and psoriasis cause dry cause patches and even inflammation of the skin. The fluctuation in glucose levels of diabetes patients can lead to dehydration, which will dry the skin out. Hypothyroidism can reduce the amount of oil produced by the skin, which results in rough, dry skin. Inadequate nutrition is also often a cause for dry skin.
Even though dry skin patches are not a serious problem, they can lead to other problems. They can also be a sign of an underlying illness like diabetes. Eliminating the external causes is often efficient and solves the problem. Changes in the skin care routine, diet, and lifestyle can have a great impact on the health of our skin. As our “first line of defense” against diseases and infections, skin care should be taken very serious.