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Dry skin: Signs and symptoms

Everyday dry skin differs from excessively dry skin, which can require a dermatologist’s help. If you have excessively dry skin, you may notice one or more of the following:


Excessively dry skin has lost a lot of moisture, so it’s noticeably dehydrated. Signs of dehydrated skin include dryness, more noticeable fine lines, and itch.

Dehydrated skin

Flakes, rough texture

When the skin loses enough moisture, it starts to flake off. This causes the rough texture.

Dry, flaking skin

Cracks in the skin

As the skin dries out, it shrinks. This shrinking causes cracks to form. Some cracks can become deep and may bleed.

Cracks in heel


Some people who have excessively dry skin say their skin itches all (or most of) the time. The nearly constant itch can make it difficult to focus on everyday tasks, such as driving or getting your work done. The itch can make it difficult to fall asleep and can wake you from a sound sleep.

Itchy hand

Skin feels painful, may sting or burn

Dry, cracked or raw skin often feels painful. When something touches the already painful skin, such as water, some people say their skin burns. In a cold, dry climate, this can happen to hairdressers and others who often have wet hands while at work.

Example of a situation where dry skin can cause stinging sensation: Hair being washed at a hair salon.

Wrinkled with a rough, loose texture

When skin loses a lot of moisture, it wrinkles and develops a rough texture. With age, it also becomes loose, as shown here.

Wrinkled skin

Skin infections

Excessively dry skin has breaks in its outer layer. This allows germs to get inside, which can lead to a skin infection. Signs of an infection are:

  • Yellow crusts on the skin
  • An area of skin leaks pus or other fluid
  • Swelling and discoloration
Infected skin

Peeling skin

The outer layer of our skin continually renews itself. As it does so, the body sheds dead skin cells. You usually don’t see this shedding. When the skin sheds more than the usual number of skin cells, such as when the skin becomes excessively dry, iskin can peel off.

Peeling skin on a hand

Raw, irritated, and painful skin

When skin becomes excessively dry, it can feel raw from the cracking and bleeding. This woman’s hands have nicks and cuts that bleed.

Painful skin on hands

What causes people to develop excessively dry skin varies. Some people get it from immersing their hands in water frequently throughout the day.

Hairstylists frequently develop excessively dry skin due to having frequently wet hands and using hair dyes and other beauty products. All of these can strip the much-needed oils from their hands.

For others, excessively dry skin can be a sign of something else going on inside the body. You’ll find information about the many causes at: Dry skin: Causes

1-5, 8, 9: Getty Images
6,7: Images used with permission of DermNet NZ.

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.
Lueangarun S, Soktepy B, et al. “Efficacy of anti-inflammatory moisturizer vs hydrophilic cream in elderly patients with moderate to severe xerosis: A split site, triple-blinded, randomized, controlled trial.” J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019 Oct 14.
Mekić S, Jacobs LC, et al. “Prevalence and determinants for xerosis cutis in the middle-aged and elderly population: A cross-sectional study.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2019;81:963-9.