Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
Xerosis cutis is the medical term for abnormally dry skin. This name comes from the Greek word "xero," which means dry.
Dry skin is common, especially in older adults. It’s usually a minor and temporary problem, but it may cause discomfort. Your skin needs moisture to stay smooth. As you age, retaining moisture in the skin becomes more difficult. Your skin may become dry and rough as it loses water and oils.
Dry skin is more common during the cold winter months. Modifying your daily routine by taking shorter showers with lukewarm water and using moisturizers can help prevent xerosis cutis.
Dry skin is linked to a decrease in the oils on the surface of the skin. It is usually triggered by environmental factors. The following activities or conditions may lead to dry skin:
Xerosis cutis is worse during the cold winter months when the air is very dry and there is low humidity.
Older people are more susceptible to developing the condition than younger people. As we age, our sweat glands and sebaceous glands are less active, mostly due to changes in hormones. This makes xerosis cutis a common problem for those 65 years old and older. Diabetes is also a risk factor, making older individuals with diabetes very likely to develop xerosis cutis.
Symptoms of xerosis cutis include:
Treatment is aimed at relieving your symptoms. Treating dry skin at home includes regularly using moisturizers on the skin. Usually, an oil-based cream is more effective at holding in moisture than a water-based cream.
Look for creams that contain the ingredients lactic acid, urea, or a combination of both. A topical steroid medication, such as 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, can also be used if the skin is very itchy. Ask a pharmacist to recommend a moisturizing cream or product that will work for you.
Note that products marked "lotion" instead of "cream" contain less oil. Water-based lotions may irritate xerosis cutis instead of healing your skin or soothing symptoms. Other treatment methods include:
Natural treatments such as essential oils and aloe are popular for treating xerosis, but their effects remain mostly unproven. One study even recommends avoiding aloe vera in the treatment of xerosis, as it can make skin more sensitive. Soothing agents such as coconut oil can help hold in moisture and relieve itching.
You should see a dermatologist if:
You may have a fungal or bacterial infection, an allergy, or another skin condition. Excessive scratching of dry skin can also lead to an infection.
Dry skin in younger people may be caused by a condition called atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. Eczema is characterized by extremely dry, itchy skin. Blisters and hard, scaly skin are common in people with this condition. A dermatologist can help determine whether you or your child has eczema. If you are diagnosed with eczema, your treatment plan will be different from a person with xerosis cutis.
Xerosis cutis can be a symptom of other conditions, including:
Therefore, it’s important not to ignore xerosis cutis. If itching or discomfort persists after treatment, bring the symptoms to the attention of a medical professional.
Dry skin cannot always be prevented, especially as you age. However, you can help avoid or reduce the symptoms of xerosis cutis by simply modifying your daily routine:
Written by: Jacquelyn Cafasso and Kathryn Watson
Medically reviewed on: Jan 24, 2017: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, CNE, COI
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.