Dry, Cracked and Scaly Winter Skin Conditions
Synopsis: Information regarding dry skin including prevention, treatment options and types of moisturizers.1
Author: Thomas C. Weiss Contact: Disabled World (www.disabled-world.com)
Published: 2015-11-13 Updated: 2020-12-05
Dry skin is usually a long-term issue that recurs often - particularly during the winter months.
Water followed by the application of oil such as a type of moisturizer greatly benefits dry skin.
Dry Skin is a very common skin issue and is often times worsened during the winter when environmental humidity is low. It may occur at all ages and in people with or without other forms of skin issues. The usually fine lines in a person's skin become more visible, the person's skin feels rough and appears flaky and dull. In more advanced instances, fish net like cracks resembling the fine fracture lines of cracked porcelain may occur. Dry skin happens most commonly on a person's legs and arms, although it may also affect an individual's trunk of their body. Dermatologists often refer to dry skin as, 'asteatosis,' or, 'xerosis.'
Issues Associated with Dry Skin
Dry skin commonly produces itching, which may be severe and interfere with a person's sleep and additional daily activities. Repeated scratching and rubbing can create areas of rough and thickened skin or, 'lichenification.' Thickened and dry skin can crack, particularly in areas subject to chronic trauma, causing painful cracks in a person's skin or, 'fissures.' Dry skin and scratching might result in a dermatitis when the person's skin becomes red and inflamed in addition to being scaly and dry. Scaly, round, itchy red patches scattered over a person's arms, legs and trunk called, 'nummular eczema,' may also appear.
The appearance of yellow crusts or pus in affected areas indicates a bacterial infection is developing. When this occurs, it requires specific antibiotic therapy from a family doctor or a dermatologist. If your skin is very dry, or if you experience red dermatitis, you should pursue the advice of your family doctor or a dermatologist.
Dry Skin Causes
The outermost layer of a person's skin is called the, 'stratum corneum.' The stratum corneum consists of dead skin cells embedded in a mixture of natural oils called, 'lipids,' which are made by underlying living skin cells. These natural skin oils keep the water inside of a person's body from escaping into the air and also keep irritating substances and germs from entering the body. Both the dead skin cells and skin oils hold a certain amount of water in the stratum corneum and it is this stratum corneum water that helps to keep a person's skin soft, smooth and pliable.
Dry skin occurs when there is not enough water in the stratum corneum for it to function as it should. One way this may happen is when protective oils in the stratum corneum are lost and the water that is usually present in a person's skin is permitted to escape. Too much soapy water, exposure to harsh chemicals, certain forms of skin diseases and the usual aging process are some of the causes of decreased amounts of protective skin oils. As the stratum corneum dries out it shrinks and as it does - small cracks may occur. The small cracks expose the underlying living cells to irritating substances and germs in the environment.
Treating Dry Skin
An important aspect of treatment is to identify and then tackle any factors that might be contributing to dry skin. Water of itself, particularly hot water, might actually worsen the issue of dry skin through removal of protective skin oils. Hot and soapy water depletes natural skin oils to the greatest degree. Water followed by the application of oil such as a type of moisturizer greatly benefits dry skin. When you shower, you can avoid dry skin by:
- Bathing in water that is warm instead of hot.
- Using soap minimally and where or when needed.
- Directly rubbing bath oil into the skin after showering or bathing.
- Quickly and gently patting your skin partially dry without rubbing.
- Using mild soaps that are unscented or designed for sensitive skin.
- Applying moisturizers liberally during the day and evening, particularly to areas prone to dryness.
- Taking a short shower or bath, no more than ten minutes, one time only in a twenty-four hour period.
- Applying moisturizer within three minutes of getting out of the shower or bath to seal the water in the skin before it evaporates.
Treat any red dermatitis patches with a topical cortisone ointment or cream for five to fifteen days. Over-the-counter strength cortisone ointments or creams may be helpful on occasion, yet prescription strength products are often times needed to calm down this form of dermatitis. Cortisone cream or ointment should only be applied to red patches unless otherwise instructed. The ointment or cream should only be applied two times each day. When you use both a cortisone product and a moisturizer, always use the cortisone first and then the moisturizer.
Be careful where using other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and itch-suppressing lotions or creams are concerned. A number of these products contain chemicals that may irritate or cause allergic reactions in dry and dermatitic skin. A general rule is if anything you apply to your skin causes more itching and burning than you experienced in the first place, you should stop using it and consult your doctor. Anti-itch products containing pramoxine or menthol and camphor are generally safe to use. The products; however, are not treating the cause of skin dryness, they are simply treating the itching that accompanies skin dryness on a temporary basis.
Any way that you can increase the level of humidity in the air in your home and workplace is advisable. If not already present, you should consider adding a humidifier to the central heating system in your home. If you use a portable humidifier, ensure it is used in your bedroom at night.
Dry Skin Long-Term Prevention and Control
Dry skin is usually a long-term issue that recurs often - particularly during the winter months. When you notice your skin starting to become dry, resume your moisturizing routine and avoid the use of harsh soaps. If the dry, itchy skin rash returns, use both the moisturizers and a prescription steroid cream or ointment. There are basically two types of moisturizers; body moisturizers and facial moisturizers. The majority of facial moisturizers relate mainly to makeup and cosmetic concerns. Where body moisturizers are concerned there are four basic types:
What follows are descriptions of these oils, lotions, creams and ointments.
Lotion moisturizers are suspensions of oily chemicals in water and alcohol.
Examples of lotion moisturizers include Nutraderm Keri, Vaseline Intensive Care, Curel, Lubriderm, Nivea and Neutrogena, among others.
Cream moisturizers usually disappear when rubbed into the skin without leaving you feeling greasy.
Examples of cream moisturizers include Aquaphilic, Eucerin Cream, Vaseline cream and Neutrogena Hand Cream, among others.
Oil moisturizers are less greasy than ointment ones but are still effective.
Examples of oils that may be applied directly to your skin include mineral oil, baby oil, bath oil and even vegetable oil. It is preferable to apply bath oils promptly after getting out of the shower or bath.
Ointment moisturizers have the best ability to trap moisture in a person's skin, yet they have the greasy consistency and feel of petroleum jelly. Some common household products such as Crisco shortening may also be used as very inexpensive body moisturizers. The key to using an ointment is to apply small amounts and rub it in well.
Examples of effective ointment moisturizers include plain Vaseline Petroleum Jelly and Aquaphor.
Some moisturizers contain chemicals that might cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people, such as preservatives, fragrances, urea, sunscreens or alpha hydroxyacids. If one brand of moisturizer gives you issues, try another one in the same class that has a different set of ingredients.
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