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Author: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1997. Updated January 2015.
Dry skin refers to skin that feels dry to touch. Dry skin is lacking moisture in the outer horny cell layer (stratum corneum) and this results in cracks in the skin surface.
Dry skin is also called xerosis, xeroderma or asteatosis (lack of fat).
Dry skin can affect males and females of all ages. There is some racial variability in water and lipid content of the skin.
Dry skin that begins later may be seen in people with certain diseases and conditions.
People exposed to a dry environment may experience dry skin.
Dry skin is due to abnormalities in the integrity of the barrier function of the stratum corneum, which is made up of corneocytes.
The inherited forms of ichthyosis are due to loss of function mutations in various genes (listed in parentheses below).
Acquired ichthyosis may be due to:
Dry skin has a dull surface with a rough, scaly quality. The skin is less pliable and cracked. When dryness is severe, the skin may become inflamed and fissured.
Although any body site can be dry, dry skin tends to affect the shins more than any other site.
The clinical features of ichthyosis depend on the specific type of ichthyosis.
Dry areas of skin may become itchy, indicating a form of eczema/dermatitis has developed.
When the dry skin of an elderly person is itchy without a visible rash, it is sometimes called winter itch, 7th age itch, senile pruritus or chronic pruritus of the elderly.
Other complications of dry skin may include:
The type of dry skin is diagnosed by careful history and examination.
When considering which emollient is most suitable, consider:
Emollients generally work best if applied to damp skin, if pH is below 7 (acidic), and if containing humectants such as urea or propylene glycol.
Additional treatments include:
Eliminate aggravating factors.
A tendency to dry skin may persist life-long, or it may improve once contributing factors are controlled.
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