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Dry skin: Diagnosis and treatment

Follow treatment plan

To get relief from excessively dry skin, you need to apply the moisturizer that your dermatologist selects as often as prescribed in your treatment plan.

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If you have excessively dry skin, dermatologists recommend treatment. Without treatment, you have a greater risk of developing another skin condition, such as a skin infection. Long-term scratching can cause thick patches of permanently itchy skin.

You also have a greater risk of developing food allergies or an allergic skin reaction.

While an allergy or skin reaction can be treated, it cannot be cured.

How do dermatologists diagnose excessively dry skin?

Your dermatologist can often diagnose you by looking at your skin.

To create a treatment plan that meets your needs, your dermatologist will also ask questions. Before your appointment, it’s helpful to make sure that you can answer the following questions:

  • Have you (or any close blood relatives) had atopic dermatitis, asthma, hay fever, or food allergies?

  • How long have you had the excessively dry skin?

  • What worsens your dry skin?

  • What treatments have you tried?

This will help your dermatologist uncover what’s causing your excessively dry skin.

How do dermatologists treat excessively dry skin?

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Soothe your skin by getting rid of the itch, pain, and other symptoms.

  • Give your skin what it’s missing so that it can heal.

  • Teach you how to prevent the dry skin from returning.

Because each patient has unique needs, you will receive a customized treatment plan, which may include:

Moisturizer: Your dermatologist will select a moisturizer that contains the right amount of active ingredients, such as urea, ceramides, lactic acid, or glycerol, to heal your skin. The right mix will hydrate your skin and restore its outer layer. Some patients need a prescription moisturizer.

Treatment for any underlying skin condition: Some common skin conditions can cause excessively dry skin, such as atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, or psoriasis. To heal dry skin, you need to treat the condition.

Plan to help you protect your skin: Does your job require you to dip your hands in water several times a time? Do you work with cement? These and other activities can lead to excessively dry skin. To heal your skin, you need to protect your skin.

What is the outcome for someone who has excessively dry skin?

Researchers have found that when patients follow the prescribed treatment plan, most people see their skin heal.

If you have trouble following your treatment plan, be sure to tell your dermatologist. To get relief and prevent worsening, it’s essential to follow the treatment plan.

Let your dermatologist know if you:

  • Find it difficult to apply the moisturizer as often as necessary

  • Cannot reach areas where you need to apply your moisturizer

  • Have problems protecting your skin at work

Your dermatologist can work with you to develop a plan that you can follow. That’s important. To get relief, you need to treat excessively dry skin.

You may also need to make some changes to your everyday habits. You’ll see what dermatologists recommend at: Dry skin: Self-care

Getty Images

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.

Terrie YC. “Itchy, scratchy skin: Preventing and managing xerosis.” Pharma Times. Posted 6/18/2013. Last accessed 2/7/2020.