Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Most of the time, dry skin is just dry skin. You can resolve it on your own with normal dry skin treatments, like over-the-counter moisturizers and changes to your skin care routine.

But sometimes dry skin really should be seen by your doctor. If your dry skin doesn't resolve with normal dry skin treatment or is especially severe, it's best to see your doctor. This could be a result of an underlying health problem.  But how can you tell when your dry, itchy skin is a sign that you should see an expert? Here are some answers.

What Causes Dry Skin?

Your skin is naturally protected by oils that keep it moist and soft. Most of the time dry skin is caused by external factors that physically strip away this protective barrier. They include:

  • Harsh soaps
  • Long, hot baths and showers
  • Swimming
  • Abrasive, itchy clothing
  • Cold, windy weather
  • Dry heat, either natural or from indoor heating

Dry skin may also be caused by body changes, medical conditions, or treatments.  These include:

  • Increasing age -- 75% of people over 64 have dry skin
  • Hormonal changes
  • An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Diabetes
  • Malnutrition, which might result from an eating disorder
  • Family history of dry skin
  • Other health problems

While some serious diseases can cause dry skin, don't be alarmed. Most people who have dry skin are perfectly healthy. 

But even normal dry skin shouldn't be ignored, since it can lead to further problems. Untreated dry skin can result in dermatitis, which causes swelling and redness. If the skin becomes severely cracked, it can also become infected, and that requires more extensive treatment.

Do I Need Expert Dry Skin Treatment?

So how do you know if you need to see a doctor for dry skin treatment? Experts have a rule of thumb. Try at-home dry skin treatments -- like using moisturizers, humidifiers, and milder soap -- for two weeks. If they haven't helped, it's time to schedule an appointment.

You should also see an expert for dry skin treatment if you have any of the following specific signs and symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of dry skin
  • Sudden onset of itchiness
  • Severe dry skin that's cracking, swollen, red, bleeding, or oozing
  • The development of dry skin when you have other medical conditions like poor blood circulation or diabetes

Doctors can be an enormous help in refining your dry skin therapy. They can go over what might be causing your dry skin and rule out any more serious causes. They can give you a new dry skin care regimen. They may also need to prescribe or recommend medicines for dry skin treatment, at least until your skin is healthier. These could include:

  • Topical antihistamines, to reduce itching
  • Topical creams, like cortisone, to reduce swelling and irritation
  • Other treatments if an underlying medical condition is causing your dry skin

Remember that ignoring dry skin can have consequences. That's true for everyone, but especially for people who already have long-term health conditions like diabetes. Over time, dry skin can become worse and harder to treat. 

So if you have any concerns about your dry skin, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist. It's the only way to be sure you're getting the best dry skin treatment possible.

How To Clean Dry Skin

From moisturizers to soap, see the best ways to take care of dry skin.
See slideshow