Dry Skin Treatment

  • Treatment

    Dry skin rarely becomes infected, but when infection occurs, it requires prompt medical attention. Infection is a rare complication of dry skin, and it requires urgent care. Prompt medical attention is also required for dry skin that is very painful, that oozes and crusts, or that develops pustules (small collections of pus). Other symptoms suggesting the need for urgent care include fever, loss of appetite, drowsiness, and a general feeling of being unwell.

    Some simple changes in daily bathing habits can lead to a dramatic improvement in dry skin.

    • Take only brief, lukewarm baths to moisten and soothe dry skin. Showers are about twice as drying for the skin as baths, and hot water is much more drying than warm or cool water. Soaking briefly -- 20 minutes at most -- in a tepid bath can moisten dry skin and relieve itching.
    • Use soap sparingly, and try switching to a milder soap or a soap substitute. Surprisingly, most areas of the body can be adequately cleansed simply by rinsing the skin with water. When standard soap is used, it should be used only in the armpit and groin areas, and should be applied briefly and rinsed off thoroughly. Dry skin can also be alleviated by switching from harsh, deodorant, or antibacterial soaps to milder fatted soaps, glycerin soaps, or soap substitutes (sometimes called soapless cleansers or beauty bars).
    • Add an oil to the bath, but be very careful not to slip when getting out of the tub. Bath oils provide a uniform layer of oil on the skin that can help trap water. However, these oils can make the bathtub slippery, so use extra caution when getting out of the tub.
    • Dry the skin by patting it gently with a soft towel. Also, leave the skin slightly damp. Avoid vigorous rubbing, which can further irritate dry skin.
    • Apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing to seal in water. Moisturizers are most effective when they are applied immediately after bathing, when the skin is still slightly damp.

    The skin's water content can be restored by applying over-the-counter moisturizers several times each day. Moisturizers increase the water content of the stratum corneum, improving the skin's appearance and texture, restoring its protective function, and soothing irritation. Because the effects of moisturizers are transient, they must often be applied at least twice daily for their full benefit.

    Moisturizers usually contain some combination of occlusive ingredients, humectant ingredients, and exfoliating ingredients.

    • Occlusive ingredients create an oily barrier that seals in the body's natural moisture and blocks evaporation. Occlusive ingredients include petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and paraffin; beeswax; oils, such as lanolin and mineral oil; silicone; vegetable and animal fats; and waxes.
    • Humectant ingredients draw water into the stratum corneum from the atmosphere and from neighboring tissues. Humectant ingredients include glycerin, urea, lactic acid, pyrrolidone carboxylic acid, propylene glycol, sorbitol, proteins, some vitamins, and alpha-hydroxy acids.
    • Exfoliating ingredients help normalize skin shedding and reduce scaling and flaking. These ingredients include alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid, salicylic acid, and urea.

    The effectiveness and texture of a moisturizer depend in part on its formulation, which is based on the moisturizer's ratio of water to oil.

    • Ointments contain mostly oil. They usually have a heavy, greasy texture and may leave a residue on the surface of your skin. Ointments are often the most effective moisturizers for moistening the skin, although their cosmetic effects may limit their use. Ointments are often preferable to other moisturizers during the winter months and for use on the areas of the body where skin is the driest, such as the hands.
    • Creams contain similar amounts of oil and water. Creams usually spread smoothly and don't leave a residue on the skin's surface. Creams are good overall moisturizers for the body and face, and may be sufficient for relieving dry skin throughout most of the year.
    • Lotions have a high water content. Lotions can be very light and soothing in the short-term, but the water in lotions can evaporate and leave your skin even drier in the long term.

    Dry air in the indoors can be reduced by using a humidifier and turning down the thermostat in winter. Humidifiers return moisture to dry air and may help relieve dry skin. Because heating also dries out air, keeping rooms at a cooler temperature helps maintain the humidity of indoor environments.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    In most cases, permanent changes in a skin-care routine are necessary to keep dry skin from returning. Self-care measures and the use of moisturizers can very effectively control dry skin. However, these measures do not permanently cure dry skin, and dry skin can return if you return to former skin-care habits. To keep dry skin at bay, it is important to make lasting changes to your skin-care routine.

    The prognosis of dry skin depends on the presence of other skin conditions and other medical conditions. The underlying cause of dry skin often determines the course of the dry skin over time and its response to treatment. Your doctor can outline the typical prognosis for dry skin caused by specific skin conditions or other medical conditions.

    Cases of severe dry skin or dry skin in association with other skin conditions may require regular medical visits. Severe and complex cases of dry skin often require ongoing follow-up with a health-care professional. Regular medical visits are useful for monitoring the response of dry skin to treatment and assessing any complications.

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