Dry skin

Description, causes, prevention, treatment and medicines

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin is often characterised by rough skin and scaling, with small white flakes as the dead skin comes off. There may also be moderate itching. The lower legs, backs of the hands and forearms are usually affected. As people age their skin tends to lose moisture and become dry. Prolonged bathing or showering with hot water, excessive use of soap and low humidity increase the risk of dry skin. It is also usually more of a problem in winter, as sitting in front of heaters or fires and sleeping with the electric blanket on can dry out the skin.

While many people are conscious of using moisturisers on their face, they tend to neglect the rest of their body. Using mild keratolytics (e.g. urea cream) to remove skin scales, humectants (e.g. glycerol) to soften the skin and moisturisers (e.g. sorbolene cream) to prevent or replace moisture loss all help to reduce the problem of dry skin.

What can you do to alleviate dry skin?

If you have dry skin you should:

  • use hypoallergenic cosmetics;
  • bathe less frequently if necessary — once a day is plenty;
  • pat the skin dry (don’t rub it) after a bath or shower;
  • use a barrier cream if hands are frequently in water; and
  • always use a soap substitute even when the skin is in good condition.

When should you seek medical advice?

You should you seek medical advice if:

  • the skin is broken;
  • the skin is very red and inflamed;
  • white patches or silvery scales are visible; or
  • the person affected is a child.
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