Xerosis, xeroderma, or xerosis cutis refers to the skin’s inability to retain moisture properly, leading to flaky, rough, and often itchy skin. Lay people refer to it simply as dry skin. In this context, the term lay people means non-medical people.
“This cross-sectional study in a primary care setting shows that xerosis is highly prevalent in patients ≥65 years, with 56% of patients experiencing at least some degree of xerosis and about 9% of the elderly population experiencing moderate and severe xerosis.”
Causes of xerosis
Common causes of dry skin include:
Central heating (indoor heating), cold weather, dry weather (low humidity), and too much direct sun exposure.
If you shower or bathe too often, over-wash in hot water, and use harsh soaps, you will strip your skin of its essential natural oils.
Human skin produces less oil as we age, making it increasingly susceptible to dryness. Seniors are much more likely to experience xerosis than young adults.
Certain skin conditions
Especially psoriasis and eczema.
Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid gland), kidney disease, and diabetes.
Diuretics, topical acne ointments, chemotherapy, wrinkle creams, antihistamines, and statins can dry out your skin.
Signs and symptoms
These may vary, and depend mainly on how dry your skin is. Here are some signs and symptoms:
- Scaly, flaky, rough skin.
- Irritation, and sometimes redness too.
- The skin feels tight, especially after having a shower or bath.
- Fine lines or cracks appear on the skin.
- Some cracks may be deep and painful. We usually refer to them as fissures.
Signs and symptoms are slightly different. A symptom is something only the patient is aware of, and needs to tell the doctor, nurses, and other people about it. Itchiness and discomfort, for example, are symptoms.
Signs are detectable by both the patient and other people. Examples of signs are flaky skin or cracks on the skin.
Diagnosis of xerosis
The doctor, usually a dermatologist or primary care physician (general practitioner), will examine the patient’s skin. They may also ask them about their lifestyle, medical history, and other existing skin conditions that could contribute to dry skin.
Diagnosis is usually made through a visual examination of the skin.
The aim here is to restore and retain skin moisture. The following treatment options are the most common:
If you suffer from dry skin, apply thick creams or ointments after having a bath or shower. Only use fragrance-free products.
If the air inside your home is very dry, get a humidifier.
Use soap-free cleansers and lukewarm water when bathing or washing your hands and face.
Limit how often you have a bath or shower. When bathing or washing your hands, use lukewarm and not water.
Try to buy only clothing made of cotton or other natural fibers. Soft, breathable fabrics can help reduce skin irritation.
Complications of xerosis
If you don’t get treatment for your dry skin, you may have a greater risk of developing the following:
Bacteria and other pathogens can get into the cracks in your skin, infecting it.
Dry skin can either exacerbate eczema or cause asteatotic eczema (eczema-like symptoms).
If your skin is itchy all the time and makes you feel uncomfortable, you could become increasingly stressed and anxious. This is especially the case if it affects your sleep and daily activities.
Moisturize your skin regularly, wear gloves when washing the dishes and doing other household chores, limit your exposure to direct sunlight, and drink plenty of water.
If you eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, your skin will benefit.
“While most cases of dry skin respond to treatment, if skin dryness is particularly severe or appears to worsen or fails to improve after at least 7 days of self-treatment, patients should be advised to seek medical care from their primary health care provider.”
“Patients should also be advised to seek medical care if their skin shows any signs of infection or if a large area of the skin is peeling and inflamed.”