What is Xerosis? Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

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.

According to a French study:

“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:

  • Environmental factors

Central heating (indoor heating), cold weather, dry weather (low humidity), and too much direct sun exposure.

  • Over-washing

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.

  • Age

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.

  • Medical conditions

Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid gland), kidney disease, and diabetes.

  • Some medications

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.
  • Itching
  • 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.

Xerosis - Dry Skin

Image Source: Advanced Dermatology, P.C.


The aim here is to restore and retain skin moisture. The following treatment options are the most common:

  • Moisturizers

If you suffer from dry skin, apply thick creams or ointments after having a bath or shower. Only use fragrance-free products.

  • Humidifiers

If the air inside your home is very dry, get a humidifier.

  • Gentle cleansers

Use soap-free cleansers and lukewarm water when bathing or washing your hands and face.

  • Bathing/Washing

Limit how often you have a bath or shower. When bathing or washing your hands, use lukewarm and not water.

  • Clothing

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:

  • Skin infections

Bacteria and other pathogens can get into the cracks in your skin, infecting it.

  • Eczema

Dry skin can either exacerbate eczema or cause asteatotic eczema (eczema-like symptoms).

  • Mental distress

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.

According to Pharmacy Times:

“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.”

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