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 are signs and symptoms of dry skin?

The key symptom of dry skin is itching. People who have dry skin can often find rough, dry, red patches on their skin, and these patches are often itchy. Typical skin areas affected include arms, hands, lower legs, abdomen, and areas of friction such as ankles and soles. As skin dryness becomes more severe, cracks and fissures may evolve.

Symptoms and signs:

  • Itching
  • Rough dry skin
  • Red plaques

The itchy feeling may worsen the severity of dry skin. Itching can lead to the development of the "itch-scratch" cycle. That is, as a person feels itchy, he or she scratches in response, which exacerbates the itch, and so on. The itch-scratch cycle is often seen when conscious control of scratching is low or absent, for instance during sleep.

Most common dry skin areas are

  • the lower legs,
  • hands,
  • arms.

Constantly scratching and rubbing the skin may cause the skin to become thick and leathery. For others, small, red, raised bumps may appear on their skin, and these bumpy spots can be irritated, opened, and infected if scratched.

How is dry skin diagnosed?

Generally, dry skin can be easily diagnosed when the physician visually inspects the skin. While dry skin can appear on any type of skin at any age, the elderly and individuals who frequently expose their skin to soaps or detergents are more prone to developing this condition. In addition, a thorough medical history and review of the family history can help support the diagnosis of dry skin. Based on the medical history, other medical conditions may be ruled out or considered. In more difficult cases, a skin biopsy may be helpful to confirm the diagnosis and direct the treatment plan.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/26/2016
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