The best treatment for dry skin is daily lubrication with an emollient (a substance that inhibits the evaporation of water). Because most dry skin is due to external causes, external treatments like creams and lotions can be applied and effectively control the skin problem. Often, dry skin can be improved by applying a bland over-the-counter moisturizer. Once other causes of dry skin have been ruled out, the main goals of treatments are to stop the itching, prevent loss of water, and restore skin hydration.
Light moisturizing lotions for mild dry skin
- Cetaphil lotion
- Lubriderm lotion
- Curel lotion
Highly moisturizing products (that characteristically do not flow out of the jar when inverted) for severe dry skin
- Crisco vegetable shortening
Topical steroid creams include
- hydrocortisone 1% cream (mild strength),
- Pramosone 2.5% cream (mild strength),
- triamcinolone 0.1% cream (medium strength),
- fluocinonide 0.05% cream (strong strength).
As a general rule, only mild corticosteroid creams like hydrocortisone should be used on the face, underarm, and groin areas. Long-term application of strong corticosteroid creams like fluocinonide may cause serious adverse effects, including skin thinning, stretch marks, and skin breakdown.
Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine (Vistaril, Atarax), and cetirizine (Zyrtec) may also alleviate generalized itching in dry skin.
Anti-itch oral medications
- hydroxyzine (Atarax)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
What are possible complications of dry skin?
A common complication of dry skin and itching is secondary bacterial infection. Infections may be mild and resolve spontaneously or may be more severe and necessitate antibiotic treatment. Severe itching leads to repeat scratching of lesions, hence the "itch-scratch-rash-itch" cycle. Because of the persistence of this itch-scratch cycle, the skin may become much thickened in these areas from rubbing. Repeat skin rubbing in the same area may lead to two localized chronic skin conditions called lichen simplex chronicus (LSC) and prurigo nodule.
What are some home remedies for dry skin?
Apply an emollient cream two or three times daily to wet skin.
Dry skin may be improved by taking lukewarm showers or baths and avoiding excess skin scrubbing. Hot water and harsh scrubbing can take away the natural oils that protect skin and make the skin even drier.
Dry skin may be prevented by use of gentle cleansers. Non-scented, mild cleansers or soap-free products like Aveeno, Cetaphil, Dove, or Neutrogena are recommended for dry and sensitive skin. Many scented, deodorant, and antibacterial soaps can be too harsh and wash off natural skin-protecting oils.
Special moisturizers containing lactic acid (Amlactin, Lac-Hydrin), or urea (Urix or Carmol) are also effective in hydrating the skin.
Mild soaps and cleansers include
- Dove soapless cleanser,
- Aveeno cleanser,
- Cetaphil cleanser.
Mild moisturizers without perfumes are good for dry skin. Thick and greasy emollients work best. Typically, moisturizers should be applied within three to five minutes of bathing when the skin is still damp.
The moisture on the skin and in the environment is very important to dry skin. Maintaining the skin at optimal hydration and using an indoor humidifier may help improve dry skin.