6 reasons why your skin is so dry—and how to make it better

Woman applies moisturizing cream to shoulder
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The skin is the largest organ of the body, totaling a surprising 20 square feet of area. Our skin helps regulate our body temperature and protects us from microbes. But it becomes dry when it loses too much water — a common skin complaint.

Dry skin can easily become itchy and irritated, but treating patches of dry skin isn’t just a matter of comfort. It can help to prevent additional conditions from forming, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) and skin infections that form from bacteria entering cracked skin.

Dry skin can affect people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. Thankfully there’s quite a bit you can do to improve your skin’s dry condition.

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How Dry Skin Happens

Many of us experience dryness in the winter, when humidity levels are low, but that’s not always the cause. Here are six frequent reasons why dry skin might occur:

  • Dry skin can be seasonal — especially during the cold winter and hot summer months.
  • People who live in dry regions, such as the Southwest, also tend to suffer from dry skin.
  • Environmental factors, like cold or windy conditions, or using fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, can exacerbate dry skin, as can chlorinated pools.
  • Harsh soaps and detergents or scrubbing your skin too much can strip away the natural oils that seal in moisture.
  • Long hot showers can also worsen dry skin.
  • Certain medical conditions can dry out your skin.

Symptoms can also vary by the following:

    • age
    • environment
    • sun exposure
    • health status
    • skin tone

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Dry skin can occur anywhere, from your back and shoulders to your face to your fingers, heels and toes. Signs of dry skin include scaling or peeling, itchiness, fine lines or cracks, deep cracks that bleed and a general feeling of tightness in the area. However, treating dry skin can help you feel better.

Limiting water exposure, such as keeping bath and shower time to 10 minutes or under and not using hot water (easier to do in summer!), can help prevent dry skin. Opting for gentle cleansers or allergen-free soaps, covering skin whenever possible during cold and windy weather and drinking non-caffeinated beverages when thirsty can help keep skin from drying out, too.

Managing stress and minimizing your sun exposure can also help.

If you have dry skin in the places where you shave, using a moisturizing shaving cream and running the blade in the direction of growth can help reduce dryness.

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What To Use On Dry Skin

In most cases, you can make a few lifestyle adjustments or treat your dryness at home.

Moisturizing regularly after swimming or bathing is especially important. Creams and ointments used throughout the day can help relieve extremely dry skin. These are richer and more effective than lotion because they can lock in more moisture.

Body butter, which is a thicker cream that slowly seeps into the skin, can boost hydration and heal the skin. The best body butter will have a combination of shea, cocoa and/or mango butter.

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If your dry skin worsens during treatment, experts say something else might be causing it such as an underlying medical condition, like atopic dermatitis or kidney disease, age, things your skin comes into contact with throughout the day or certain medications.

Those over the age of 60 with dry skin may have an increased risk of developing skin infections or bed sores. If dry skin persists, it might be worth a trip to your primary care doctor or dermatologist.

About the Author

Emily O'Brien

Emily is a freelance writer who loves connecting the dots among facts and finding obscure little details to weave in throughout her work. Whether she's interviewing Olympic athletes, small business owners, dessert cookbook writers, or world-renowned architects, she's passionate about shining the spotlight on good people doing remarkable work. Learn More.