Severely Dry, Cracked Skin
Doctors refer to ordinary dry skin as xerosis. Problems with dry skin can be aggravated by a number of environmental factors, including cold weather and frequent bathing. Although uncomfortable, dry skin is treatable. If you have chronic problems with dry skin, try to identify and correct possible causes. If your skin becomes so dry that it cracks, you should seek treatment to avoid complications.
Winter weather presents a challenge to dry skin sufferers, both from the cold temperatures and from dry indoor air. Dry skin is also aggravated by frequent hot baths or showers, use of harsh soaps or detergents and excessive sun exposure. Certain medical conditions, including eczema, psoriasis and hypothyroidism, also can cause dry skin problems. Seriously dry skin may be caused by an inherited group of disorders called ichthyosis.
When dry skin thickens, it can fissure or crack, particularly on areas of the body such as the hands, which are exposed to the elements, washed frequently, and may be subject to repeated trauma. Such fissures are potentially dangerous if they are not cared for because they can open and bleed, creating a pathway for bacteria to enter the body.
Dry skin appears most frequently on the arms, lower legs, thighs and the sides of the abdomen. Initial symptoms include a feeling of tightness on the skin, and flaking or scaling skin. If dryness is untreated, a feeling of itchiness can lead to an itch and scratch cycle that leaves skin inflamed and reddened. The fine lines that first appear with dry skin may eventually widen to become painful cracks. Cosmetic problems associated with dry skin include skin that feels rough to the touch and appears shriveled and parched.
Liberal use of a thick, creamy moisturizer is the best treatment for dry skin. Apply moisturizer to the skin immediately after bathing or showering. Severely dry skin may benefit from application of a body oil before the moisturizer. Reapply moisturizer often to areas of the skin that are most prone to dryness. A non-prescription cream containing lactic acid and urea may be helpful in reducing skin flakiness. If itching is a problem, your doctor may prescribe a lotion containing hydrocortisone. Your doctor may treat skin cracks by applying a wet, mildly astringent dressing to encourage the skin to contract and minimize secretions. If skin cracks become infected, your doctor will prescribe treatment with an antibiotic ointment.
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends the use of a gentle soap or non-soap skin cleanser; avoid use of deodorant soaps which can be harsh and drying. Always apply a sunblock to exposed skin when outdoors. You can help keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and by using a humidifier during the winter months.
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