WHAT IS DRY SKIN?
Dry skin is a very common skin condition characterized by a lack of the appropriate amount of water in the most superficial layer of the skin, the epidermis. While dry skin tends to affect males and females equally, older individuals are typically much more prone to dry skin. The skin in elderly individuals tends to have diminished amounts of natural skin oils and lubricants. Areas such as the arms, hands, and particularly lower legs tend to be more affected by dry skin. Dryness of the skin is affected by the amount of water vapor in the surrounding air, the humidity. Dry skin is also known as xeroderma.
CAUSES OF DRY SKIN
There is no single cause of dry skin. Dry skin causes can be classified as external and internal. External factors are the most common underlying cause and are the easiest to address. External factors include cold temperatures and low humidity, especially during the winter when central heaters are used. Internal factors include overall health, age, genetics, family history, and a personal history of other medical conditions like asthma, allergies, and atopic dermatitis. In particular those with thyroid disease are more prone to developing dry skin.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The key symptom of dry skin is itching. People who have dry skin can often find rough, dry, red patches on their skin, and these patches are often itchy. Typical skin areas affected include arms, hands, lower legs, abdomen, and areas of friction such as ankles and soles. As skin dryness becomes more severe, cracks and fissures may evolve.
- Rough dry skin
- Red patches
Generally, dry skin can be easily diagnosed when the physician physically examines and visually inspects the skin. While dry skin can appear on any type of skin at any age, the elderly and individuals who frequently expose their skin to soaps or detergents are more prone to developing this condition. In addition, a thorough medical history and review of the family history can help support the diagnosis of dry skin. Based on the medical history, other medical conditions may be ruled out or considered. In more difficult cases, a skin biopsy may be helpful to confirm the diagnosis and direct the treatment plan.