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Dry Skin and Itching

Condition Basics

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is a common problem that can occur at any age. When you have dry skin, your skin may be rough, or scaly or flaky, and it may itch.

There are many causes of dry skin. As you age, your skin produces less of the natural oil that helps your skin keep its moisture. Dry indoor air can cause your skin to become dry. So can living in climates with low humidity. Indoor heating or air conditioning can dry out the air inside your home. Bathing too often may also dry your skin, especially if you use hot water for your baths or showers.

How do you care for dry skin?

The following home treatment suggestions may help make you comfortable if you have dry skin.

  • Look for a moisturizer that is a skin barrier repair moisturizer, like CeraVe or TriCeram.

    Using this type of moisturizer can help heal dry skin.

  • Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly at night, and wear thin cotton gloves to bed.

    This is helpful for very dry hands. (Dry feet may benefit from similar treatment.)

  • If dry, brittle nails are a problem, use lotion on your nails as well.
  • Take care of your nails, keeping your fingernails and toenails trimmed and smooth.

    Long or sharp nails can accidentally scrape your skin.

  • Avoid scratching.

    Scratching damages the skin. If itching is a problem, try the following:

    • Keep the itchy area well moisturized. Dry skin may make itching worse.
    • Add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your bath. Or you can try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.
    • Try a nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream for small itchy areas.
      • Use the cream very sparingly on the face or genitals.
      • If itching is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger cream.
      • If you are using this cream for larger areas like your arms or legs, you may want to mix some of this cream with a moisturizer before putting it on your skin.
    • Try a nonprescription oral antihistamine. Examples include chlorpheniramine (such as Chlor-Trimeton), diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), and loratadine (such as Claritin).
    • Cut your nails short or wear gloves at night to prevent scratching.
    • Wear loose and comfortable clothing. Avoid scratchy fabrics next to your skin.

How do you prevent it?

Practice good skin hygiene to keep your skin healthy. Here are some tips:

  • Shower or bathe in lukewarm or warm water.

    Don't shower too often—just when you're dirty or sweaty, or no more than once a day. Wash your skin gently rather than scrubbing it.

  • Use a mild skin cleanser instead of soap.

    A skin cleanser can help protect your skin's natural moisture barrier. Examples include Aveeno, Dove, and Neutrogena.

  • Pat your skin dry after a bath or shower.

    Apply a moisturizer right away while your skin is still damp. Examples include Aquaphor, Eucerin, and Purpose.

  • Apply moisturizer several times a day.

    Moisturizer, such as a skin cream or ointment (petroleum jelly), protects your skin better than lotion.

  • Consider using a humidifier if the air inside your home is very dry.
  • Protect your lips with a lip balm that contains petroleum jelly or mineral oil.

Part of good skin hygiene is also making sure your hands and feet don't get too dry. Take care of rashes or fungal infections, like athlete's foot. If they don't clear up with nonprescription medicines, see your doctor to prevent more serious skin problems.

Credits

Current as of: March 3, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology