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.
Flakes, rough texture
When the skin loses enough moisture, it starts to flake off. This causes the rough texture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Images 1-5, 8, 9: Getty Images 6,7: Images used with permission of DermNet NZ.
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. 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.