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How to Combat Dry Skin? Dr Emily Altman

Dry skin and eczema

Scratching dry skin often leads to eczema

Although dry skin is usually not serious, it can be quite uncomfortable.  Dry skin is dull and flaky andmay feel itchy and tight.

The tendency to dry skin may be inherited from your parents, as part of a condition called atopy, which includes eczema, hayfever and seasonal allergies, and asthma. A person with atopy may have one or several of these.

Another inherited dry skin condition is ichthyosis, where the skin looks like fish scales.

Dry skin can be made worse by environmental factors as well.  Skin is normally drier in the winter when it is cold and dry outside and hot and dry inside.

Taking hot showers or baths, scrubbing your skin with washcloths or loofahs, using products with fragrances or dyes can worsen dry skin.  Wearing certain types of clothing, like wool, can make skin more itchy. An important contributing factor to developing dry skin is ultraviolet damage from sun exposure or indoor tanning equipment.

Certain internal diseases or medications you may take may also cause dry skin. Scratching dry skin can lead to the development of eczema (an itchy, red, scaling skin condition) and skin infections.

Dry skin on the face can be a sign of overusing cleansers, toners, scrubs or certain rejuvenating or acne medications, like retinoids or benzoyl peroxides.Commonly, seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) presents as either red or hypopigmented (lighter than normal) flaky, dry skin around the nose, between the eyebrows and on the forehead.  Eczema can also present as dry skin on the face.

Steps to Combat Dry Skin

  1. Use warm, not hot water when taking showers or baths. Use a mild soap like Dove for Sensitive Skin or a non-soap cleanser like Cetaphil bar.  Avoid using washcloths, sponges or loofahs.  Avoid using bubble bath products.
  2. Immediately after showering or bathing, pat your skin dry (do not rub) and apply a moisturizing cream or ointment, like Eucerin, Cetaphil, Aveeno or Aquaphor.  Although moisturizing lotions are easier to apply and absorb better, they actually do not moisturize the skin and may leave it even more dry.  The best dry skin creams are fragrance-free and dye-free, as fragrances and dyes may irritate and further dry the skin.
  3. Use fragrance-free laundry detergents and fabric softeners.  Avoid using chlorine bleach.  Laundry detergents with strong enzymes can also irritate dry skin.
  4. Use a humidifier in your house during the winter months when the heat is on.
  5. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen made for sensitive skin when outdoors. Avoid sun exposure and indoor tanning equipment.


  • If your dry skin does not improve by using these methods, see your dermatologist. There are a number of skin conditions (rashes) that may present with dry skin. They need an evaluation by your doctor.
  • If your skin has open sores, weeping or oozing, see your dermatologist immediately as you may have a skin infection that requires treatment.
  • An allergy to something that is applied to the skin (allergic contact dermatitis) may also present with dry, irritated skin.

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