Self-management

Lifestyle and home remedies

The following measures can help keep your skin moist and healthy:

  • Moisturize. Moisturizers provide a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping. Apply moisturizer several times a day and after bathing. Thicker moisturizers work best, such as over-the-counter brands Eucerin and Cetaphil.

    You may also want to use cosmetics that contain moisturizers. If your skin is extremely dry, you may want to apply an oil, such as baby oil, while your skin is still moist. Oil has more staying power than moisturizers do and prevents the evaporation of water from the surface of your skin.

    Another possibility is ointments that contain petroleum jelly (Vaseline, Aquaphor). These may feel greasy, so you might want to use them only at night.

  • Use warm water and limit bath time. Long showers or baths and hot water remove oils from your skin. Limit your bath or shower to five to 10 minutes and use warm, not hot, water.
  • Avoid harsh, drying soaps. It's best to use cleansing creams or gentle skin cleansers and bath or shower gels with added moisturizers. Choose mild soaps that have added oils and fats. Avoid deodorant and antibacterial detergents, fragrance, and alcohol.
  • Apply moisturizers immediately after bathing. Gently pat your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains. Immediately moisturize your skin with an oil or cream to help trap water in the surface cells.
  • Use a humidifier. Hot, dry, indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. A portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace adds moisture to the air inside your home. Be sure to keep your humidifier clean to ward off bacteria and fungi.
  • Choose fabrics that are kind to your skin. Natural fibers, such as cotton and silk, allow your skin to breathe. But wool, although natural, can irritate even normal skin.

    Wash your clothes with detergents without dyes or perfumes, both of which can irritate your skin. These products may be labeled as "free."

If dry skin causes itching, apply cool compresses to the area. To reduce inflammation, use a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream or ointment, containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone. If these measures don't relieve your symptoms or if your symptoms worsen, see your doctor or consult a dermatologist.

Prevention

Try these tips to keep skin from getting excessively dry:

  • Moisturize. Moisturizer seals skin to keep water from escaping.
  • Limit water exposure. Keep bath and shower time to 10 minutes or less. Turn the dial to warm, not hot. Try to bathe no more than once a day.
  • Skip the drying soap. Try cleansing creams, gentle skin cleansers and shower gels with added moisturizers.
  • Cover as much skin as possible in cold weather. Winter can be especially drying to skin, so be sure to wear a scarf, hat and gloves when you go out.
  • Wear rubber gloves. If you have to immerse your hands in water or are using harsh cleansers, wearing gloves can help protect your skin.
Oct. 27, 2016
References
  1. Moncrieff G, et al. Use of emollients in dry-skin conditions: Consensus statement. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 2013;38:231.
  2. Dry skin. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. http://www.aocd.org/page/DrySkin. Accessed July 2, 2016.
  3. Dry skin. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/dry-sweaty-skin/dry-skin. Accessed July 2, 2016.
  4. Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Cosmetics and skin care in dermatology. In: Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y. The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed July 2, 2016.
  5. Fazio SB, et al. Pruritus: Overview of management. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 1, 2016.
  6. Berger TG, et al. Pruritus in the older patient: A clinical review. JAMA. 2013;310:2443.
  7. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Dermatologic disorders. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2016. 55th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2016. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed July 2, 2016.