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Dry skin: Who gets and causes


Dry skin comes with aging

By 60 years of age nearly everyone has dry skin. If you also take certain medication, undergo cancer treatment, or receive dialysis, you can develop excessively dry skin.

older man holding a drill

What causes excessively dry skin?

When skin loses water too quickly, it becomes dry. This can happen for many reasons.

Everyday things, such as using deodorant soaps and harsh cleaning products, can strip oils and fats from our skin. Taking long, hot showers can also dry your skin. Living in a cold, dry place dries the skin, too.

You can often heal dry skin by making some changes, which includes moisturizing several times a day.

When the skin continues to lose water and cannot heal itself, skin can become excessively dry. Age, certain medications, and disease can also cause skin to become excessively dry.

Who develops excessively dry skin?

Certain people have a higher risk of developing excessively dry skin. If any of the following apply to you, you may. How many of the following apply?

  • Middle age or older: With age, our skin produces less sebum, an oil that keeps skin soft and youthful. By your 40s, the amount of sebum your body makes drops dramatically. After 40, the amount of sebum your skin contains continues to drop.

  • Black, brown, or fair skin: Research shows that people who have brown, black, or fair skin are more likely to develop very dry skin than people who have a medium complexion, such as people who have Mediterranean ancestry.

  • Certain medications: Extremely dry skin is a possible side effect of several medications, including statins and diuretics.

  • Wet work: A job that requires you to frequently put your hands in water throughout the day or use harsh chemicals can strip your skin of its protective layer. Hairdressers, nurses, housekeepers, construction workers, cooks, florists, and metal workers often develop excessively dry skin.

  • Low outdoor temperature: When outdoor temperatures fall, the air holds less moisture. Research shows that this can lead to excessively dry skin.

  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency: Skin requires nutrients to keep it healthy. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, zinc, or iron, you can develop excessively dry skin.

  • Smoking: Cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that speed up how quickly your skin ages, so skin becomes drier.

  • Condition that affects the skin: Some conditions that affect the skin, including atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, perioral dermatitis, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis, can cause excessively dry skin.

  • Itchy skin condition: If you’ve had a skin condition that caused itchiness at some time in your life, you have a greater risk of developing excessively dry skin. Many adults who had atopic dermatitis as a child live with extremely dry skin.

  • Diabetes, thyroid disease, or kidney disease: These conditions are known to cause excessively dry skin.

  • Dialysis: Kidney disease increases your risk of developing extremely dry skin. When you receive dialysis, you have an even greater risk because dialysis removes water from your body. People receiving dialysis treatments also need to limit how much fluid they drink, consuming only 32 ounces a day. This can further dry your skin.

  • Cancer treatment (current and past): If you’ve ever had chemotherapy, are receiving a cancer treatment called targeted therapy, or getting radiation treatments, you can develop extremely dry skin.

  • Anorexia: If you’re not eating enough, you’re not getting the nutrients your skin needs to stay hydrated.

  • HIV positive: Excessively dry skin is common in people who are HIV positive, even those on antiretroviral treatment (ART).

If you develop excessively dry skin, dermatologists recommend treating it. Treatment can prevent the condition from worsening.

Should the dry skin worsen, you can develop permanent side effects. Your skin can itch most of the time. Some people develop food allergies. It’s also possible to develop irritated skin every time you touch certain objects. You also have a higher risk of developing a serious skin infection.

Here’s what you can expect when you see a board-certified dermatologist about excessively dry skin: Dry skin: Treatment

Image: Getty Images

References
Augustin M, Wilsmann-Theis D, et al. “Diagnosis and treatment of xerosis cutis - a position paper.” J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2019;17 Suppl 7:3-33.
Chan RKO, Chio MTW, et al. “Cutaneous manifestations of HIV infection.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (fourth edition). Mosby Elsevier, China, 2018: 1373.
Gisondi P, Girolomoni G, et al. “Letter to the editor: Skin moisturization for xerosis related to targeted anticancer therapies.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2015;73:e33.
Mckinley-Grant L, Peebles JK, “Renal disease.” In: Taylor and Kelly’s Dermatology for Skin of Color. (second edition). McGraw Hill, USA, 2016:509.
Oakley A, “Dry skin.” DermNet NZ. Last updated January 2015. Last accessed Feb 28, 2020.
Valentine J, Belum VR, et al. “Incidence and risk of xerosis with targeted anticancer therapies.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2015;72:656-7.”

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