Dry Skin and Itching

Description

As you age, your skin produces less of the natural oil that helps your skin keep its moisture. Dry indoor air can cause your skin to become dry, as can excessive bathing in hot water. Getting a lot of sun can also dry out your skin.

Prevention

The following information may help you to prevent dry skin and itching:

  • Avoid showers. They strip the natural oil that helps the skin hold in moisture. Baths are much kinder to the skin than showers are.
  • Use bath oils in the tub. (Be careful, because bath oil will make the tub slippery.)
  • Use mild soaps, such as Dove or Cetaphil.
  • Use a moisturizing lotion immediately after your bath, even before toweling dry completely.
  • Use moisturizer on your hands, especially if you must wear gloves often or the air is dry where you live.
  • Use sunscreen when you are outside to protect your skin.
  • Protect your lips with lipstick or a lip balm, such as Chapstick.

Home Treatment

In addition to the prevention guidelines, the following home treatment suggestions may help make you comfortable if you have dry skin.

  • For very dry hands, try this for a night: Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly, and wear thin cotton gloves to bed. (Dry feet may benefit from similar treatment.)
  • If dry, brittle nails are a problem, use lotion on your nails as well.

Avoid scratching, which damages the skin. If itching is a problem, try the following:

  • Keep the itchy area well moisturized. Dry skin may make itching worse.
  • Try an oatmeal bath to help relieve itching.
    • Wrap 1 cup of oatmeal in a cotton cloth and boil as you would to cook it. Use this as a sponge and bathe in tepid water without soap.
    • You may also try a commercial product, such as Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal bath.
  • Try a nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream for small itchy areas.
    • Use the cream very sparingly on the face or genitals.
    • If itching is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger cream.
  • Try a nonprescription oral antihistamine, such as Claritin, Chlor-Trimeton, or Benadryl.
  • Cut your nails short or wear gloves at night to prevent scratching.
  • Wear cotton or silk clothing. Avoid wool and acrylic fabrics next to your skin.

When to Call a Doctor

Call your health professional if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • You itch all over your body but there is no obvious cause or rash.
  • Itching is so bad that you cannot sleep, and home treatment is not helping.
  • Your skin is badly broken from scratching.
  • You see signs of infection, including:
    • Increased pain, swelling, redness, warmth, or tenderness.
    • Red streaks extending from the area.
    • Discharge of pus.
    • Fever of 100°F (37.8°C) or higher with no other cause.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 4014
Schaumburg, IL  60618-4014
Phone: 1-866-503-SKIN (1-866-503-7546) toll-free
(847) 240-1280
Fax: (847) 240-1859
Web Address: www.aad.org
 

The American Academy of Dermatology provides information about the care of skin, hair, and nails. You can find a dermatologist in your area by calling 1-888-462-DERM (1-888-462-3376).


American Academy of Family Physicians
P.O. Box 11210
Shawnee Mission, KS  66207-1210
Web Address: www.familydoctor.org
 

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers information on adult and child health conditions and healthy living. Its Web site has topics on medicines, doctor visits, physical and mental health issues, parenting, and more.


References

Other Works Consulted

  • Baumann L (2008). Cosmetics and skin care in dermatology. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2357–2364. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

Author Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology
Last Updated March 5, 2009

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