What is Dry Skin?
Dry skin refers to a condition of skin where it lacks sufficient moisture. The most common form of dry skin is known as xerosis. Without proper moisture, the skin lacks its natural smoothness and supple. Although it is normal for the skin to retain moisture, with growing age or for other external and bodily reasons it may lose its property of retaining moisture. This leads to dry skin.
Dry skin is not a serious disease but it may be disturbing and annoying. In some cases, dry skin leads to fine lines and wrinkles due to transfer of plump cells into shriveled ones. Some serious forms of dry skin, known as Ichthyosis, can be disfiguring too. Often, dry skin conditions are a cause of psychological distress.
Most of the dry skin conditions occur due to environmental factors and can be controlled. Dry skin usually occurs due to exposure to hot or cold weather with low humidity and excessive bathing and changing the conditions may treat the disease.
Symptoms of Dry Skin
Depending upon the age, locality, health status, amount of time spent outdoors and the nature of the problem, the symptoms of dry skin condition may vary. Usually, dry skin condition affects the lower legs, the arms and the sides of the abdomen but the pattern, as mentioned above, may vary from person to person. The most common symptoms of dry skin may include one or more of the following;
• Losing the elasticity of the skin (skin tightness), especially after showers, bathing nd swimming.
• Appearance of fine lines or cracks.
• Redness of the skin.
• The skin may turn rough, rather than smooth.
• Moderate to high flaking, scaling or peeling.
• Itching of the skin (pruritus) which may be intense.
• Deep fissures that may bleed in severe cases, etc.
It is essential to keep an eye on the condition of the skin, as severe untreated dryness can lead to or be symptom of other chronic diseases. It is necessary to consult doctors for the following symptoms
• Itching leading to open sores or infection.
• Scaling or peeling off of skin taking place in larger sections of the skin.
• Lack of improvement of the skin conditions despite the best efforts.
• Redness in combination with dry skin. And,
• Disturbance in sleeping due to dryness and itching.
Diagnosis of Dry Skin
The first step of diagnosing dry skin is applying a thorough physical checkup of an individual. The doctor may also check the medical history of the patient to find the root cause behind the disease. The interview questions may include when the problem started, which factors make it better or worse, bathing habits of the individual, dietary habits and the steps taken to save the skin.
The doctor may also test for low thyroid which may result in dry skin. The TRH (Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone) test may also be undertaken to detect the levels of thyroid. The test requires an injection followed by drawing blood samples for testing in the lab.
The tests are predominantly performed to check whether the dry skin problem is a symptom of another skin disease, such as Keratosis pilaris, Ichthyosis vulgaris, Asteatotic eczema, and Psoriasis.
Causes of Dry Skin
As mentioned earlier, the most common factors causing dry skin are environmental. However, onset of some other diseases may also lead to the condition.
Weather conditions contribute a lot in making the skin dry. The skin is driest during winter, when the temperature and humidity levels go much below the normal. Winter conditions are usually harmful for a bunch of skin problems but in desert regions the effects are reversed because although the temperatures soar high, the humidity levels remain low.
Exposure to sunlight may also be harmful in some cases. The UV radiation is found to be a major factor in making the skin loose and sagging. The UV radiations penetrate deep into the layers of the skin and breaks down the collagen and elastin fibers much more quickly than normal. Deep wrinkles may appear and the skin may lack moisturizer. The sun-damaged skin may appear like dry skin.
Application of powerful soaps and detergents may also lead to dry skin. Many of the soaps and detergents take away the lipids and water molecules from the body, making the skin dry. Deodorants and antibacterial soaps also have damaging effects on the skin. Some shampoos and cosmetics are also harmful for skin and may create dry skin.
Central air conditioning, fireplaces, wood burning stoves and space heaters reduce the humidity and are harmful for the skin.
Hot water baths and long showers can also dry the skin. Moreover, swimming for a long time in chlorinated pool may also have similar effects on the skin.
Thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism can also lead to dry skin. It is found that low levels of thyroid hormones can lead to dry skin conditions.
Other prominent skin diseases, such as psoriasis can also show symptoms of dry skin.
Types of Dry Skin
There are various types of dry skin disorders depending upon the symptoms and characteristics of the disease.
Eczema or dermatitis is probably the most discomforting skin dryness. In eczema, parts of the skin are found to be inflamed and excessively dry. The condition is extremely itchy and scratching makes it worse.
Blepharitis is a common dry skin disorder that affects the eyelids. The eyelids affected with blepharitis are usually red and dry. This occurs mainly due to lack of sleep, exposure to sunlight or a smoky atmosphere etc.
Psoriasis is also a common dry skin condition. It is characterized by itchy, red and dry skin often accompanied by flaking and, in some cases, bleeding.
Treatment of Dry Skin
The most common treatment of dry skin includes taking lifestyle measures and home remedies. Moisturizers are quite effective in diminishing dry skin disorders. Moreover, long and hot water baths should be avoided to get quick response while using the treatments. OTC drugs such as those containing lactic acid or lactic acid and urea are also prescribed to treat the dry skin condition.
For serious skin disorders such as ichthyosis and psoriasis, the doctor may advise prescription creams and ointments.
For treating dermatitis, which usually causes red, itchy skin is treated with hydrocortisone containing lotions. A mild wet dressing with mild astringent properties to contract the skin may be prescribed if the skin cracks open. The dressing is usually provided to reduce secretions and avoid infections.
Living with Dry Skin
Dry skin is usually a long term disorder. The individual suffering from dry skin should take ample care to avoid worsening of the disease. The first step is to limit bathing and swimming conditions. Baths with hot water for a long period should be avoided as it soaks up the moisture of the skin. Moreover, the patients should avoid use of powerful chemical based soaps and detergents which may have a harmful effect on the skin.
Long exposure to sunlight may also be harmful for dry skin patients. It is found that UV radiations may aggravate the dry skin disorder. Exposure to smoky atmosphere should also be avoided to safeguard the skin from drying.
Prevention of Dry Skin
Prevention of dry skin is an important subject as once the disease strikes; it is very tough to control the situation. Firstly, prolonged and excessive bathing should be avoided. Use of soaps, bubble bath, washcloths and scrubbing pads are also harmful and may lead to dry skin conditions. Application of a moisturizing cream may be helpful in preventing dry skin conditions. Moisturizers should be applied after toweling off the skin to avoid development of dryness and itching. Moreover, special care should be taken during the winter, which is found to aggravate skin problems. Central heating and air conditioning, fireplaces, space heaters and wood burning stoves should also be avoided as much as possible.