What Is Xerotic Eczema?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2022
4 min read

Xerotic eczema, also called asteatotic eczema, is first and foremost characterized by extreme dryness of skin. It can arise at any time of year, but it’s especially common during the cold months of winter when the wind becomes especially harsh for certain skin types. For this reason, xerotic eczema is commonly referred to as, “Winter Itch”.

Xerotic eczema can affect anyone, however older adults are especially prone to it because the activity of the sebaceous and sweat glands decreases as you age. Moreover, winter weather tends to impact older adults more than others, and they are more likely to take medications that predispose them to xerotic eczema.

While xerotic eczema sometimes develops spontaneously, there are many environmental factors that may make you more susceptible. A few common causes of xerotic eczema include:

In addition, indoor heating during winter can dry ambient air enough to provoke a flare-up in people already inclined to eczema. Talk with your doctor if you notice xerotic eczema to see if any environmental factors are causing it. 

Xerotic eczema is considered a development of xerosis, a relatively common dry skin order that affects many people. Human skin needs to maintain a constant water content of between 10 and 15 percent to keep its normal function and appearance, but many factors can deprive the skin of water. Symptoms of xerotic eczema include:

  • Lesions along the legs
  • A patchy, venous appearance
  • A hard, rough texture in affected areas
  • Small, crusty, or dry scales lining the skin

Crackly fissures in the skin, usually but not always appearing on the legs, most characterize this form of eczema. Loss of moisture in the skin is the fundamental cause, which means that the developing xerotic fissures tend to take on a red, scaly look that a doctor can readily identify.

At home. The condition can potentially be treated at home if it’s not too far along. You can treat the itching with gentle oatmeal baths and a lotion with skin-moisturizing ingredients, such as camphor. Installing a home humidifier may also prevent your home from becoming too dry and drafty for your skin.

Begin moisturizing regularly, especially after bathing or exposure to water in general. Too-frequent hand washing is a common cause of dry skin, so try not to do it more than necessary.

Researchers have found success treating xerotic eczema using emollients that contained lactic acid and refined almond oil. People reported significant reductions in itchiness within just 30 minutes of having applied the emollients over the affected patches of skin. Moreover, continued use of these emollients over a period of weeks greatly improved the overall skin moisture levels of the people involved.

With your doctor. More developed cases of xerotic eczema may require a doctor’s intervention and prescription medical ointments. Depending on the individual case, that could mean anti-inflammatory creams, lipids, or even corticosteroids.

While doctors generally try to avoid using topical corticosteroids for xerotic eczema and its related conditions, they have been shown to be effective during limited and supervised use. That said, they’re reserved for serious cases. The preferred treatment for xerotic eczema is regular and thorough hydrating of the skin.

Pay attention to any feelings of itchiness in the skin, especially in winter. That can be a sign that xerotic eczema is forming, and you can get ahead of it if you start moisturizing early. Various environmental conditions can contribute to the formation of xerotic eczema, such as:

  • Shaving
  • Dressing in wool
  • Dish cleansers
  • Ingredients in certain moisturizers
  • Fragrant soaps

Avoiding skin irritants is the most important thing. Use mild hand soaps instead of potentially harsher deodorant soaps that can cause rashes. Keep the water warm, not hot, when you bathe, and avoid bathing for more than 10 to 15 minutes. There’s nothing wrong with bathing a little less often than usual either.

Xerotic eczema is unpleasant, but it’s not a life-threatening condition. It responds well to treatment and typically improves within a few weeks of skin hydration. The important thing is to apply the prescribed treatments consistently and avoid situations or products that might further irritate the skin.

That being said, the cracks and fissures in your skin, left untreated, might lead to other complications that can be more serious, so be sure you see a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of “Winter Itch”.