Dry skin can be caused by simple lifestyle and environmental factors, or it can be a sign of a more serious skin condition. You can try using simple preventive measures to heal your skin, such as using a moisturizing oil after you shower and wearing breathable natural fabrics like cotton or silk. If these remedies don’t work, you should have a doctor look at your skin.
The clinical name for dry skin is “xerosis.” Symptoms include rough skin, tight-feeling skin, itching and flaking, visible cracks in skin surface and redness. It’s most often caused by a combination of the following: dry winter weather, the overdrying effects of central heating and cooling, showering or bathing in water that’s too hot, or using a harsh chemical-laden soap. Preventive solutions include showering in warm but not hot water, using chemical-free soaps with added moisturizers, applying oil or lotion to your skin immediately after you bathe, wearing breathable clothing in natural fibers, and using an indoor humidifier.
Ichthyosis is a relatively rare skin condition causing dead skin cells to build up in flakes. The New Zealand Dermatological Society reports that it can be inherited genetically or you can develop it alongside one of several other conditions, including an underactive thyroid or lymphoma. Most inherited forms of the disease appear in infancy or early childhood; in rare cases, some medications like kava or hydroxyurea can cause ichthyosis. Treatment includes frequent moisturizing and exfoliation, sometimes accompanied by oral retinoids to help stop the scaling.
Eczema & Psoriasis
These two skin conditions can sometimes be difficult to tell apart. They both cause itchy, flaky, dry, reddened skin and they both involve immune system reactions. However, the American Academy of Dermatology notes that psoriasis patches usually have a silvery, scaly appearance with skin that flakes off easily; the patches will also have clear borders. In contrast, the AAD reports that eczema is usually red rather than silver in color, and patches may be swollen and itchy.
Seborrheic dermatitis is another skin condition that causes flaky, patchy skin. Although skin appears dry—hence the flakes—patches of seborrheic dermatitis are actually oily and greasy. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, doctors believe the cause is related either to a hormone disorder or a fungus. Doctors treat it with steroid-infused creams and lotions.
If the simple preventive measures described above don’t heal your dry skin, you should visit your doctor. See a doctor if your dry skin patches turn into sores or open wounds, if the patches begin to peel or if the discomfort affects your daily life.