What is dry skin?
Dry skin is a very common skin condition characterized by abnormal or excessive dryness of skin. While dry skin tends to affect males and females equally, older individuals are typically much more prone to dry skin. The skin in elderly individuals tends to have diminishing amounts of natural skin oils and lubricants. Areas such as the arms, hands, and particularly lower legs tend to be more affected by dry skin. Dry skin is also known as xeroderma.
Dry skin may be a mild, temporary condition lasting a few days to weeks. Dry skin may also become a more severe, long-term skin problem for some.
Mechanism of the process:
Skin is normally covered by sebum, which is the natural oil product of sebaceous glands. Sebum helps to prevent skin dehydration. When the skin's fatty oils are stripped away, the skin loses its protection and loses moisture more easily. As skin becomes dry, it also may become more sensitive and prone to rashes and skin breakdown. This condition is sometimes referred to as xerosis. Dry skin may be an entirely invisible skin condition, or may cause a fine dry powder-like appearance of the skin. Untreated, dry skin may become irritated and result in a red rash (xerodermatitis).
What causes dry skin?
There is no single cause of dry skin. Dry skin causes can be classified as external and internal. External factors are the most common underlying cause and are the easiest to address.
External factors include:
*longer, hotter showers and baths: During winters, individuals may tend to take longer, hotter showers and baths. This prolonged exposure to hot water can strip off the natural oil from the skin, making the skin unprotected. Skin that feels overly tight after bathing may indicate excess removal of natural skin oils.
*over-washing with harsh soaps: Soap can abruptly take away skin oils. The more often skin is scrubbed with soap, the easier the skin dries out. Bathing with harsh soaps can worsen dry skin.
*cold temperature & low humidity: especially during the winter when central heaters are used & there’s no moisture in the air.
*clothing: Some materials such as wool or synthetic fibers tend to irritate the skin and worsen dry skin.
*Medications: Medications for medical conditions like high blood pressure (such as diuretics), allergies (such as antihistamines), and acne (such as retinoids like Retin A) may also dry out the skin.
Internal factors include:
*Genetics & family history:
Dry skin may be caused by a genetic condition called ichthyosis (fish-scale skin). There are many types of ichthyosis. Ichthyosis vulgaris is the most common type and it is a severe dry skin condition, often of the front of the lower legs. Ichthyosis vulgaris causes dry, fishlike scales. Less severe types of dry skin may tend to run in families. Dry skin is also more common in atopic dermatitis, which is thought to have a genetic component.
Aging may inherently make people more prone to developing dry skin. Aging especially in women may cause an increased susceptibility to dry skin due to changes in hormone levels.
individuals who have medical conditions such as allergies, eczema, psoriasis, hypothyroidism, diabetes, or malnutrition (for example, deficiency of vitamin A) may suffer from xerosis.
What are signs and symptoms of dry skin?
*Itching, Rough dry skin, Red patches: People who have dry skin can often find rough, dry, red patches on their skin, and these patches are often itchy.
*Typical skin areas affected include arms, hands, lower legs, abdomen, and areas of friction such as ankles and soles.
*As skin dryness becomes more severe, cracks and fissures may evolve.
*Itching can lead to the development of the "itch-scratch" cycle. That is, as a person feels itchy, he or she scratches in response, which exacerbates the itch, and so on. The "itch-scratch" cycle is often seen when conscious control of scratching is low or absent, for instance during sleep.
*Constantly scratching and rubbing the skin may cause thick and leathery skin.
* For others, small, red, raised bumps may appear on their skin, and these bumpy spots can be irritated, opened, and infected if scratched.
**A common complication of dry skin and itching is secondary bacterial infection which may be mild and resolve spontaneously or may be more severe and necessitate antibiotic treatment.
**Severe itching leads to repeat scratching of lesions, hence the "itch-scratch-rash-itch" cycle which leads to thickening of the skin from rubbing.
Some tips to prevent & avoid the problem of dry skin:
-Drink lots of water.
-Take short lukewarm showers or baths.
-Avoid excess skin scrubbing.
-Use Non-scented, mild cleansers or soap-free products.
-Avoid strong harsh soaps and detergents.
- Avoid wool clothing & use cotton and natural fiber clothing.
What is the treatment for dry skin?
The main treatment for dry skin is frequent, daily lubrication. Because most dry skin is due to external causes, external treatments like creams and lotions can be applied and effectively control the skin breakout.
Once other causes of dry skin have been ruled out, the main goals of treatments are to stop the itching, prevent loss of water, and restore skin hydration.
Dry Skin & Aging:
Dry skin condition is one of the earliest signs of skin aging.
As we get older, our skin becomes dryer, thinner, and less elastic, with fewer sweat and oil glands to moisten and protect it. It tears and bruises more easily, and scaling, itching and cracks can be troublesome. Oily skinned elders do better with aging changes than those with normal and dry skin.