Itchy Skin

Dry skin is a common complaint. It occurs more often in the elderly. Dry skin is one that has lost moisture and sheen, and appears dull, cracked, and shriveled. Dry skin is less elastic as compared to a normal skin and bruises more easily. It may even develop scaling and itching.

About Dry, Itchy skin

Dry skin has a withered and wrinkled appearance. It mostly affects the legs and arms but may affect skin anywhere in the body. The appearance and distribution of dry skin can vary from person to person as it is determined by the age, health status, and the causative factors.

Dry skin appears rough, tighter, cracked, and may peel or develop flakes. Criss-crossing fine lines may be visible and the skin may be red and itchy. If persistently scratched, there may be tiny red bleeding spots which may coalesce to form painful bleeding fissures.

Dry skin may appear episodically in winters or may be a persistent problem due to aging. It usually is a long term concern. Precautions and care are constantly needed to keep the skin moist, hydrated, and healthy.


The skin may get dry due to many reasons.

  • Aging is a common cause for dry skin. As we age, the skin produces less of oils and loses capacity to retain moisture.
  • Another common factor for itchy skin is exposure of the skin to extremes of temperature and weather. The skin is the only organ that is most exposed to the outside environment.
  • Dry and itchy skin is more common in winters when the cold dry weather depletes it of moisture.
  • Extreme heat and low humidity are other causative factors.
  • Long-term use of air conditioning or central heating is unfavorable for the skin and can lead to dryness.
  • Using hot water for bathing is also a factor that leads to dryness. Similarly, undue exposure of the skin to sunlight for prolonged periods can cause dryness.
  • Some skin conditions can cause dryness, example eczema which is an inflammatory swelling of the superficial layer of the skin can cause itching and dryness.
  • Dryness may also occur in pregnant women due to some hormonal changes and in general medical disorders like compromised function of the thyroid gland.


It is important to see a healthcare provider if dry skin is nonresponsive to moisturizers and emollients and persists even despite of avoiding exposure to precipitating factors.

Medical help is necessary if itching is severe and persistent, skin is cracked and chapped, sores appear in the skin, sleep is disturbed because of the skin problem, and if there is any new growth or discoloration that persists longer than two weeks. Fever, and pus or blood in the dry area prompts a visit to a doctor.

The commonest treatment option in dry skin is to moisturize the skin. Moisturizers are available as ointments, creams, and lotions. These vary in viscosity and spreadability.

Long term use of moisturizers does no harm and gives sustained protection to the skin. White petroleum jelly, baby oil, and humectants are other available preparations for dry skin. Emollients containing vitamin E are useful to make the skin soft and smooth.

If dry skin is severe, it may cause intense itching. This may need medicines for relief. Medicines that counter the effect of histamine benefit itching.

Histamine is a chemical mediator of itching and antihistamines that antagonize its action help in itching.

Creams containing medicines called corticosteroids provide relief in itching when applied on the skin. Phototherapy, i.e., light therapy may be needed in some cases.

Some other medicines may be used to soothe the skin for immediate but transient relief. These include topical anesthetics like lidocaine or benzocaine, and ointments and lotions such as menthol, camphor or calamine.

If an underlying medical condition is known to be causing dry skin and itching, the same should be treated.

Preventing dry skin

There are some things that can help to protect the skin and prevent dryness. The skin should be protected from extremes of heat and cold and harsh weather.

It is good to wear sunscreens before venturing out in the sun. If the air is too dry, a humidifier must be used to keep adequate moisture in the air.

Bathing habits will need attention. Hot water and harsh soaps should be avoided. Baths are better than showers and should be kept short. Too frequent bathing should be avoided. The skin should be patted to dry and not rubbed after a bath.

Mild cleansers may be used to keep the skin clean and cosmetic or toilet products containing alcohol should be avoided.

Bath oils and moisturizers are good for daily use. Thicker moisturizers may be better in severe cases. These are best used after a bath when the skin is still damp.

Good hydration should be maintained by taking plenty of water throughout the day. If dryness is more on hands and feet, these should be protected by wearing gloves and socks.

On the lips, lip balms containing petroleum jelly should be applied. Some life style changes can help dry skin. Avoid smoking and take adequate sleep. Fish oil supplements may help by providing essential oils that can bring back the glow in skin.

Exercise is beneficial as it increases blood flow to the skin. It is essential to exercise for at least thirty minutes daily. Wear comfortable clothes made in soft fabric to avoid friction on the skin.


A glowing youthful skin is not a distant dream if the skin is given due care. Some simple things can prevent the skin from aging prematurely.