Why Is Dry Skin Itchy?
Most people are familiar with the incessant itch of dry skin, particularly during the winter months. While scratching offers temporary relief, it sometimes just makes the itch come back with more vengeance. Understanding how dry skin causes itching and learning about some long-term methods of keeping skin moisturized will help reduce the worst of itches.
Low humidity is a common cause of dryness and itching. Aging skin is also a culprit, because it flattens and loses oil and sweat glands. Other common dry skin causes include overuse of perfumes, antiperspirants, soaps and hot baths, as well as dehydration, smoking, stress, sun exposure and some skin diseases.
Why Itching Happens
The skin's outermost layer, the stratum corneum, contains natural oils and dead skin cells. These cells and oils contain some water, which keeps the skin pliable and soft. When the stratum corneum loses some of its protective oils, some water escapes from the skin, causing small cracks and leaving the underlying cells exposed to irritating germs and substances. Itching is a defense against irritating stimuli, and scratching is a method of attempting to remove the irritant.
Many moisturizers are effective in helping seal in moisture. Lotions are mild moisturizers that have a high water content and leave less greasy residue, creams are thicker and contain some oil in water and ointments are oily but the most potent. If frequent application of a moisturizer doesn't reduce the skin itch, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends using a 1 percent hydrocortisone steroid cream for a week. See a doctor for a stronger medication if it doesn't help. Don't use a hydrocortisone steroid cream for longer than one or two weeks, warns the American Academy of Family Physicans, unless your doctor recommends it.
Skin Care Tips
You may treat or prevent future occurrences of dry and itchy skin by making some lifestyle adjustments. The Cleveland Clinic recommends taking only lukewarm showers or baths, limiting bathing time to 5 to 10 minutes, applying a moisturizer immediately after drying freshly washed skin and using moisturizing soaps to supplement lotions, creams and ointments.
Causes for Concern
Dry and irritated skin has a higher chance of becoming infected, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. You may require antibiotics if your skin is red, swollen, warm or oozing fluid. Also consult a doctor if you are an older adult and you have experienced severe pain or itching for two or more weeks.
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