Diseases & Conditions

Asteatosis - Dry Skin

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Dry skin occurs when the moisture, or water, content of the skin is decreased for any reason.

What is going on in the body?

The surface of the skin holds a certain amount of water. When the water content decreases, the skin becomes dry, itchy, and uncomfortable.

What are the causes and risks of the symptom?

Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to dry skin. As people age, their skin tends to become drier. Dry air, resulting from winter's low humidity and the use of indoor heat, can cause skin to dry out. Long, hot baths and showers can also make skin dry.

Symptoms & Signs

What other signs and symptoms are associated with this symptom?

Dry skin may cause other symptoms, such as:

  • scaling
  • redness and chapping of the skin
  • cracks and fissures in the skin surface
  • itching
  • tenderness

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the symptom diagnosed?

    Individuals with dry skin can diagnose the condition themselves based on their symptoms. If the condition persists or worsens, a healthcare provider may be consulted to rule out more serious skin disorders.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the symptom?

    People subject to dry skin should soak thoroughly while bathing or showering. However, they should limit the amount of soap they use and the length of time they're exposed to the water. Some people may be able to use mild, moisturizing soap all over the body. A few need to limit soap use to the underarms and genitalia.

    After patting skin dry with a towel, the individual should apply a moisturizer. Two types of moisturizers are available over-the-counter:

  • cosmetic moisturizers, which provide immediate relief of dry skin but last only while they are applied to the skin. For people with a mild case of dry skin, a cosmetic moisturizer is enough to keep the skin from feeling dry.
  • therapeutic moisturizers, which have demonstrated the ability to act as a barrier that keeps water from evaporating from the skin. Many therapeutic moisturizers contain mineral oil or petroleum.
  • The healthcare provider may also prescribe creams containing alpha hydroxy acids or urea to get rid of dead skin and minimize itching.

    What are the long-term effects of the symptom?

    If dry skin is severe enough and remains untreated, it can lead to eczema.

    What are the risks to others?

    Dry skin is not contagious and poses no risk to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the symptom?

    Dry skin is treated the same way it is prevented, following the guidelines for bathing and using moisturizers.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    There are no side effects to treatment, unless an individual is allergic to moisturizers. Those individuals should choose unscented or hypoallergenic moisturizers.

    What happens after treatment for the symptom?

    Moisturizer should be applied to the skin on a regular basis as needed. This will help prevent symptoms from returning.

    How is the symptom monitored?

    Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.


    Author:Lynn West, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:02/28/01
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:07/25/01