Dry Skin

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What causes dry skin?

There is no single cause of dry skin. Dry skin causes can be classified as external and internal. External factors are the most common underlying cause and are the easiest to address. External factors include cold temperatures and low humidity, especially during the winter when central heaters are used. Internal factors include overall health, age, genetics, family history, and a personal history of other medical conditions like atopic dermatitis. In particular those with ceartain thyroid diseases are more prone to developing dry skin.

External factors that cause dry skin include

  • over-washing with harsh soaps,
  • overuse of sanitizers and cleaning agents (alcohol),
  • cold temperature,
  • low humidity.

Although bathing and showering adds water to skin, it is the evaporation of this water after the completion of the immersion that results in dry skin. Skin that feels overly tight after bathing may indicate excess removal of natural skin oils.

One of the most common factors causing dry skin is frequent application of harsh soaps. The type of soap may have a large impact on dry skin. Soap is an emulsifier that removes oils on the skin. The more often skin is scrubbed with soap, the more oil is removed, ultimately resulting in dryer skin. Excessive use of soaps can worsen dry skin.

Moreover, dry skin may persist or worsen if using moisturizers improperly or choosing an inadequate moisturizer. Sometimes, the material of different clothing can also affect dry skin. Some materials such as wool or synthetic fibers tend to irritate the skin and worsen dry skin.

Dry skin condition may be caused by taking some medicines as well. Some examples are drugs for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, allergies, and acne. Occasionally, a dry skin problem can be a sign of an internal medical condition. For instance, aging may inherently make people more prone to developing dry skin. In addition, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and malnutrition are all associated with dry skin.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/26/2016
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