Dry skin: Xeroderma – The Facts
Published by Jason Finch
What is dry skin?
Dry skin also known as “Xeroderma” is one of the most very common skin conditions that effects all people at different ages, characterized by a lack of the appropriate amount of water in the most superficial layer of the skin, the “Epidermis”. You may only have patches of dry skin in certain spots or you can have it all over the body. While dry skin tends to affect males and females equally, older individuals are typically much more prone to dry skin. Dry skin can be very annoying and uncomfortable to deal with although mild dry skin is not medically harmful. In extreme cases some parts of the skin can become crack or scaly, a condition that needs to be dealt with. There are a number of ways to treat or even prevent dry skin no matter how mild or severe.
What causes dry skin?
There is single cause of dry skin. Dry skin can be classified as external and internal. External factors are the most common underlying cause and are the easiest to address.
External factors include:
- Over-washing with harsh soaps
- Overuse of sanitizers and cleaning agents (alcohol)
- Cold temperature
- Low humidity
Internal factors include:
- Overall health
- Family history
- Personal history of other medical conditions i.e. Asthma, allergies and atopic dermatitis. In particular with thyroid disease are more prone to developing dry skin.
Even though showering and bathing adds water to skin, it is the evaporation of this water after the completion of the immersion that results in dry skin. After bathing your skin may feel overly tight this indicates excess removal of natural skin oils. One of the most common occurrences of dry skin is the frequent use age of harsh soaps. The large impact on dry skin depends on the type of soap used. Soap is a emulsifier that removes oils on the skin. The more often skin is scrubbed with soap, the more oil is removed, resulting in dryer skin.
What are signs and symptoms of dry skin?
- A feeling of skin tightness, especially after showering, bathing or swimming
- Skin that feels and looks rough
- Itching (pruritus)
- Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
- Fine lines or cracks
- Grey, ashy skin in people with dark skin
- Deep cracks that may bleed
As skin dryness becomes more severe, crack and fissures may evolve.
The itchy feeling may get worse depending on the severity of dry skin. Itching can lead to development of the “itch-scratch” cycle. That is, as a person feels itchy, he or she scratches in response, which aggravates the itch, and so on. The itch-scratch cycle is often seen when conscious control of scratching is low or absent, for example during sleep.
Typical skin areas affected include:
- Lower legs
- Any areas of friction
The best treatment for dry skin is frequent, daily lubrication with an emollient (a substance that inhibits the evaporation of water). The majority of dry skin is due to external causes, external treatments like creams and lotions can be applied and effectively control the skin breakout. Of course the main goal of treatments are to stop itching, prevent loss of water and restore skin hydration.
Below is a list of different medications that are available to treat dry skin:
How can dry skin be prevented?
To help prevent skin drying out, it may be helpful to humidify the indoor environment especially during the drier, winter months. Avoid strong soaps, decreasing bathing frequency and decreasing exposure to detergents also may help improve dry skin.
Here’s a small list on how to prevent dry skin:
- Avoid strong soaps and detergents.
- Use indoor room humidifiers.
- Limit exposure to irritants such as solvents.
- Avoid wool clothing.
- Use cotton and natural fiber clothing.