Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

What to Do With Dry Skin?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

We have all experienced dry skin at some point or another, especially with cold weather. Now with the pandemic, continuous use of hand sanitizers and frequent hand washing have added to the problem. Dry skin can be one of the most annoying things but being proactive can help.

What is dry skin?

The top layer of skin is make of natural oils and fats which help trap the moisture to keep skin hydrated and soft. When the skin barrier is compromised by insults such as cold weather, frequent scrubbing, etc, hydration is lost leading to dry skin. The skin can crack, look rough, scaly, itchy, red, and literally feel dry. The medical term is known as xerosis or xeroderma.

Some of the causes:

  • Weather-cold, windy weather with low humidity
  • Too much bathing-hot showers, scrubbing your skin too much.
  • Frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers
  • Aging-as we age, our skin thins and produces less oil needed to retain moisture
  • Medical conditions-diabetes, hypothyroidism, dialysis patients


The crux of treatment of dry skin is prevention. Here are some things you can do

  • Wear protective clothing-hats, scarves, gloves. Avoid skin contact with wool which can be itchy.

  • Limit water exposure-who doesn’t love their hot long shows and baths….well, limiting shower/bath time to 5-10 minutes or less, bathing once a day, using warm water instead of hot water, and patting dry instead of rubbing dry, can prevent excess removal of natural body oils from your skin.

  • Be picky when choosing your soaps and cleansers-pick a moisturizing soap with no alcohol which is hypoallergenic and preferably fragrance free.

  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

    • Throughout the day, all the time, this will hydrate the top most layer of your skin and seal in the moisture. Don’t forget the lips-use those chapsticks!
    • Apply moisturizing cream while your skin is still damp, about one minute after getting out of the shower to seal in the moisturizer
    • Look at the ingredients of your moisturizer, you want to chose something that attracts moisture and also seals in moisture
      • Attracts moisture-Humectants such as ceramides, glycerine, hyalurinc acid, and lecithin
      • Seals in moisture-petroleum jelly, petrolatum, silicone, lanolin, mineral oil ( Slugging is most commonly done with vaseline or aquaphor) Slugging refers to a term of applying a thick layer on the skin.
      • Smooths skin-emmollients such as linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids
  • Drink lots of fluids-this has always been the key to nice, hydrated skin

  • Shave with lubricating agent in the direction of hair growth, moisturize afterwards generously

  • Be mindful of medications you are using-acne medications and retinol cause increased skin cell turnover causing dryness and flakiness

  • Use a humidifier during winter-it can help restore the moisture in the air in your house

  • Finally, don’t scratch, it will only makes things worse…

Of course dry skin won’t just go away, it will take time, but with some effort on your part, you may feel more comfortable in your skin….