Dry Skin

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 12, 2021

What Is Dry Skin?


Dry skin is when your skin dries out because it doesn’t have enough moisture. It isn’t usually serious, but it can be irritating. If your dry skin is severe, you should see a doctor.

There are many causes of dry skin -- from the temperature outside to how much moisture is in the air -- and many types.

Types of Dry Skin

Although dry skin is usually temporary, there are types of dry skin that could last year-round. If your dry skin lasts a long time, it could be one of these types:

  • Athlete’s foot: If your feet feel dry, it could actually be athlete’s foot. This condition, which results from a fungus, can make the soles of your feet dry and flaky.
  • Contact dermatitis: Sometimes things that touch your skin cause an allergic reaction. Your skin could get dry, itchy, and red. You might also get a rash. It can happen with things like makeup products, medications, detergents, or metal in jewelry (nickel).
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis): If you have dry, red, and itchy parts of your skin, you could have eczema. This can make your skin crack, too. You can get this skin condition from your parents, but things like allergens, stress, and other irritants can make it worse.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: When your scalp is too dry, you can get dandruff. (It’s called cradle cap when babies get it.) You might have dry, flaky skin on your arms, legs, groin, face, ears, or near your bellybutton, too.


Dry Skin Symptoms

Dry skin can be different for everyone, since the symptoms will depend on things like your health, your age, and the cause of your dry skin. But chances are, when you have dry skin, you’ll have symptoms like:

  • Cracked skin (the cracks could be deep and bleed)
  • Itching
  • Peeling, flaking, or scaling
  • Redness
  • Skin that feels rough or is gray and ashy
  • Skin that feels tight, especially after you’ve been in the water (bathing, showering, or swimming)

Dry Skin Causes and Risk Factors

Usually, dry skin happens because of things in the environmental, like the weather. Dry skin can be caused by:

  • Harsh detergents or soaps: Soaps, shampoos, and detergents are made to get rid of oil on your skin. That means they can also dry it out by stripping out all the moisture.
  • Heat: Any heat source, from space heaters and central heating to fireplaces and wood stoves, can lower the humidity in a room and make your skin dry.
  • Hot showers or baths: Taking long, hot showers or soaking in a hot bath could cause your dry skin.
  • Other skin conditions: People with certain conditions, like psoriasis or eczema, can also get dry skin.
  • Swimming in pools: Chlorine, a chemical that keeps some pools clean, can dry out your skin.
  • Weather: During the winter, humidity and temperature usually drop. This can make your skin drier.

Although dry skin is common and can affect anyone, there are some things that make you more likely to get it. Your chances of go up depending on:

  • Your age. If you’re 40 or older, your chances are higher. Over 50% of older adults have dry skin.
  • Where you live. Your odds go up if you live in cold or dry climates without much humidity.
  • Your job. If your skin gets wet often during your job, it’s more likely to dry out. Swimming instructors and hairstylists often have their skin in water.
  • Your genes. Some people get health conditions that cause dry skin from their parents. These include eczema, diabetes, and kidney disease, along with thyroid and other hormone disorders.


Dry Skin Treatment

When it comes to household skin irritants, the list is practically endless. It includes cleaning products, floor polishes, air fresheners, and laundry detergent, just to name a few. These products strip skin of water and oils it needs, leading to dryness and irritation. For some people, dry skin can progress to more serious conditions like eczema or dermatitis.

These things can make your home easier on your skin:

Wear gloves for housework

To take good care of your hands, you’ll need to protect them from harsh household cleaners and dish detergents, which are proven skin irritants. Use non-latex rubber gloves when it’s time to scrub. Or better yet, create a double barrier of protection: Wear a pair of rubber gloves over a layer of thin, soft cotton ones before you touch a bucket or sponge.

Shower and moisturize after a swim

Using chlorine to keep your pool clean can also dry your skin out. The best treatment: As soon as you or your children step out of the pool, head inside to rinse off with water and mild soap. Follow up with a moisturizer that lists glycerin as the first ingredient. It will help your skin hold on to moisture and prevent future dryness.

Try coconut oil

Because it has essential fatty acids (EFAs), coconut oil can help keep your skin hydrated and protected. Ask your doctor about adding it to your diet to help keep your skin moisturized. You can also use it as a moisturizer and rub it on your skin.

Slather on petroleum jelly

If you have sensitive skin that’s easily bothered by household skin irritants, the best treatments contain the fewest ingredients. When abrasive household products touch skin, they break down its protective barrier. Putting a chemical-laden moisturizer on top of an already weakened area leads to burning, stinging, itching, and redness.

Because it contains only one ingredient, petroleum jelly is gentle on your skin. You can use it to soothe dry skin, from your lips to your hands to your feet. Because it’s so safe and inexpensive, you can apply it as often as you like.

Take an oatmeal bath

Oats have been used to treat dry skin for centuries. But only recently have researchers found what eases the itch: chemicals called avenanthramides that fight inflammation and redness.

To make the most of oats’ itch-fighting power, toss them into lukewarm bathwater. Grind either quick or old-fashioned oatmeal in a blender or food processor and slowly sprinkle it into the tub as the water runs. Then soak for at least 15 minutes.

Banish dust mites

One common household skin irritant lives and breathes in most every room of your home: the dust mite. To prevent mite-related itch and irritated skin, vacuum floors and carpets, and wash your bedding in water that’s 130 F or hotter at least once a week.

Switch to hydrating hand sanitizer

You can’t check out at a convenience store or walk into a doctor’s office without seeing a hand sanitizer dispenser these days. And many families keep bottles all over the house for quick and easy hand cleansing.

But alcohol-based sanitizers can really dry out your hands. Look for hydrating versions that say dermatologist-recommended on the label.

Show Sources


American Academy of Dermatology: “Dry Skin & Keratosis Pilaris.”

Francesca Fusco, MD, dermatologist, New York City.

American Academy of Dermatology: “Dermatologists’ Top Tips for Skin Care on a Budget."

American Academy of Dermatology: “Cosmeceutical Facts and Your Skin.”

Archives of Dermatological Research: “Avenanthramides, polyphenols from oats, exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-itch activity.”

The Mayo Clinic: “Some Home Remedies Are Good Options,” “Dry Skin.”

Journal of Investigative Dermatology: “Mite and Cockroach Allergens Activate Protease-Activated Receptor 2 and Delay Epidermal Permeability Barrier Recovery.”

Sarah L. Stein, MD, pediatric dermatologist, Comer Children’s Hospital, University of Chicago.

Cleveland Clinic: “Dry Skin.”

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