DermNet NZ

Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Dry skin

What is dry skin?

Dry skin refers to skin that feels dry to touch. Dry skin is lacking moisture in the outer horny cell layer (stratum corneum) and this results in cracks in the skin surface.

The inherited forms of dry skin are known as ‘ichthyosis’ (fish-scale skin). There are various kinds of ichthyosis. Dermatologists often call dry skin arising in later life ‘xerosis’, ‘asteatosis’ or ‘acquired ichthyosis’.

Why does dry skin often itch?

The dry areas may result in dermatitis. Dermatitis is also often called eczema, and tends to be very itchy. The most common type of dermatitis in dry skin appears like crazy paving and most often affects the lower legs (‘eczema craquelé;’). Dry skin can also lead to round patches of dermatitis (a dry form of nummular dermatitis). When the dry skin is itchy without a visible rash, it is sometimes known as ‘winter itch’, ‘7th age itch’, or ‘senile pruritus’.

Close-up of ichthyosis
Discoid eczema
Dermatitis from dry skin
Dry skin

More images of dry skin ...

What causes dry skin?

Factors which contribute to dry and cracked skin include:

What is the treatment for dry skin?

An important aspect of treatment is to identify and tackle any contributing factors to dry skin (see the list of causes above). In addition:

Long term control of dry skin

Dry skin is usually a long term and recurring problem, especially in winter. When you notice your skin getting dry, resume your lubricating routine and use a non-soap cleanser. If the itchy dry-skin rash returns, use both the lubricating routine and the prescription steroid cream or ointment.

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If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.