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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Do any medications cause dry skin?

Medications for medical conditions like high blood pressure (such as diuretics), cholesterol-lowering drugs, and acne (such as retinoids like Retin A and isotretinoin) may also dry out the skin.

What is the treatment for dry skin?

The best treatment for dry skin is daily lubrication with an emollient (a substance that inhibits the evaporation of water). Because most dry skin is due to external causes, external treatments like creams and lotions can be applied and effectively control the skin problem. Often, dry skin can be improved by applying a bland over-the-counter moisturizer. Once other causes of dry skin have been ruled out, the main goals of treatments are to stop the itching, prevent loss of water, and restore skin hydration.

Light moisturizing lotions for mild dry skin

  • Cetaphil lotion
  • Lubriderm lotion
  • Curel lotion

Highly moisturizing products (that characteristically do not flow out of the jar when inverted) for severe dry skin

  • Vaseline
  • Aquaphor

Topical steroid creams include

  • hydrocortisone 1% cream (mild strength),
  • Pramosone 2.5% cream (mild strength),
  • triamcinolone 0.1% cream (medium strength),
  • fluocinonide 0.05% cream (strong strength).

As a general rule, only mild corticosteroid creams like hydrocortisone should be used on the face, underarm, and groin areas. Long-term application of strong corticosteroid creams like fluocinonide may cause serious adverse effects, including skin thinning, stretch marks, and skin breakdown.

Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine (Vistaril, Atarax), and cetirizine (Zyrtec) may also alleviate generalized itching in dry skin by allowing one to sleep better at night. They do not have a direct effect on the itching itself.

Anti-itch oral medications

  • hydroxyzine (Atarax)
  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/26/2016
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