Common symptoms of dry skin include flaking or scaling, redness, itching, and cracking. Dry skin has a parched, rough appearance and texture. The skin may be red, and may be covered with small white scales or larger flakes of skin cells. Drying may cause the normal lines of the skin to be accentuated, and is often accompanied by mild to severe itching. At its worst, itching may disrupt sleep, trigger irritability, and drive dry-skin sufferers to scratch and break open their skin. Very dry skin may develop chaps (small cracks) and fissures (large cracks) that sting and bleed.
Dry skin most often occurs on your hands and feet, and especially on the shins, the backs of the hands, and the forearms.
Older adults have an increased risk for dry skin. The normal skin changes associated with aging leave older adults more susceptible to dry skin. Dry skin is both more common among older adults and more severe when it occurs in this age group. At least one-third of older adults are troubled by dry skin throughout the year, and up to 85% of older adults may suffer dry skin in the winter.
Infants and children have an increased risk for dry skin. Compared with adult skin, the immature skin of infants and children produces less oil and has a thinner stratum corneum. This makes infants and children more susceptible to environmental factors that dry the skin. Dry skin is the most common winter skin condition among children.
People who have undergone radiation therapy have an increased risk for dry skin.
People who work in certain occupations have an increased risk for dry skin. The risk for dry skin is greater among people employed in certain occupations:
- occupations that require outdoor work in harsh climates
- occupations that require work in environments with high ventilation or low humidity
- occupations that require frequent or lengthy contact with water, soap, detergents, or solvents.
Airplanes, modern office buildings, and facilities with high-tech equipment often have low-humidity environments that cause skin drying. Health care workers, food handlers, and people who work in the fishing industry are at risk for dry skin because of frequent hand washing and contact with water. People who work with harsh cleansers or solvents, such as dishwashers and janitorial staff, are also at increased risk for dry skin.
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