All You Need to Know About Dry And Cracked Skin

By Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel

Having dry and cracked skin can make another person feel uncomfortable when it comes to shaking hands with you. In a social situation (or during intimacy), coming in contact with such skin can be quite a turn-off – especially when it begins flaking and peeling. To avoid such situations from occurring in the future, here’s a complete lowdown on dry skin.

Causes of dry and cracked skin

Dry skin (xerosis) is something that is understandably embarrassing but it is a fairly common affliction. Its symptoms include: 

  • Skin tightness (especially after shower or swimming)
  • Skin that feels and looks rough
  • Itching
  • Mild to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
  • Gray, ashy skin
  • Redness (inflammation)

Dry and cracked skin can be due to certain environmental factors, inheritable skin diseases or a combination of both. Identifying the possible causes of your dry skin can help you control the problem or prevent it altogether. Environmental causes include:

The weather – If you live in countries with a temperate climate, you would know that your skin is at its driest during winter. This is because the drop in temperature and humidity severely reduces your skin’s ability to retain moisture. However, the temperature factor may not matter that much if you live in desert regions. 

Environmental heat – Again, humidity here is key. Prolonged exposure to central heating, wood-burning stoves, space heaters and fireplaces all reduce humidity and can cause your skin to be dry.

Hot baths and shower – It can be very tempting to indulge yourself in a hot bath or shower, especially after coming home from a long day. However, such a decision may not be the be-all and end-all for your skin as hot water can strip the moisture and oils from your skin, leaving it parched and scaly. 

Chemicals in soap and detergents – Most shower gels, shampoos, detergents and soaps these days are formulated to remove oil from your skin. While this is great news if you want to prevent acne formation, it can cause dry skin too. 

Other than the environment, certain inflammatory skin conditions (dermatitis) can also cause your skin to become dry as well, and they include:

Other conditions, such as psoriasis and type 2 diabetes, can also cause your skin to dry out. While it seems that not everyone can develop dry and cracked skin, it actually happens a lot more often and in fact easier with some. This is because some may have more risk factors for dry skin compared to others, which include:

Age – It’s difficult to age gracefully when the incidence of dry skin tends to increase with age. More than 50% of those aged 40 and above are found to have dry skin.

Occupation – Some jobs may require you to immerse your skin in water, such as nursing and hairstyling. These occupational exposures increase your chances of developing dry skin. Pool lifeguards or water athletes are also at risk as they are exposed to chlorinated water.

Complications of dry skin

Like most things, if not handled, managed or treated adequately, it can complicate into something more serious. What began as fine lines and cracks on the skin, can lead to deep cracks that can cause bleeding. When this occurs, the integrity of the skin is considered effectively compromised. Seeing as how the skin acts as a natural barrier to protect the body from harmful microorganisms, disruption in its integrity can lead to secondary bacterial infections such as cellulitis. In some people, cellulitis can worsen to a more life-threatening problem known as sepsis (bacterial infection in the blood).

Managing dry skin

Fortunately, dry and cracked skin are both preventable and treatable. Important preventive steps include:

  • Using moisturiser
  • Keeping your bath sessions lukewarm (instead of hot) and no more than 10-15 minutes
  • Using shower gel or soaps which help the skin to retain moisture
  • Covering up during winter
  • Wearing rubber gloves 
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Avoid or minimise scratching dry skin

Skincare for babies

That’s right, adults are not the only ones affected by this problem. When it comes to skin hydration, we simply cannot overlook the soft and delicate skin of babies. That said, here are some essential points to take note for baby skin:

Change Diapers Often – Be sure to get into the habit of changing diapers regularly as most diaper rash happens when babies are in dirty diapers for too long. To prevent chafing, apply diaper cream at every change and monitor discharge (defecation and urination) patterns regularly. 

Moisturise – While babies with normal skin may not need to use moisturisers that often, you should still apply it at least once a day especially when heading out or for prolonged periods in air-conditioned rooms. Select moisturisers without fragrances or dyes to stay clear of skin irritants.

Wipe saliva regularly – Babies’ drool can irritate their own skin. It is especially worse when unattended saliva dries and gets wet repeatedly, as this evaporation process encourages the drying up other natural skin moisture. It would be advisable to wipe saliva regularly and apply petroleum jelly around the baby’s face before feeding.

Dress for comfort – Certain fabrics such as wool can be irritating to the baby’s skin. As such, the best fabric for them to use is cotton as they are soft and breathable, allowing adequate skin surface ventilation.

Bathing with care Babies do not need to take baths as frequently as adults, but they should be bathed at least once a day for around 5-10 minutes. Ensure that you use room temperature water as high temperatures can cause the skin to lose its moisture. Avoid using regular soap as its chemicals can also lead to dry and cracked skin due to extra sensitive baby skin. Instead, use gentle non-soap cleanser.

Most cases of dry skin respond very well to the above measures. However, it is important to stress that implementing the correct preventive steps is crucial in keeping your skin moisturised and healthy. Trying other erroneous techniques would not only yield little to no results, they may actually worsen the problem altogether. You should start considering a visit to the clinic if: 

  • your skin doesn’t improve in spite of your best efforts
  • intense and widespread redness starts to develop
  • dryness and itching interfere with sleeping
  • you have open sores or infections from scratching
  • you have large areas of scaling or peeling skin

Doctors may prescribe certain ointments, creams, or lotions to treat these early signs. In rare instances, you may be referred to a skin specialist (dermatologist) for further management. Dry skin is a manageable problem but it shouldn’t be taken lightly as it can lead to severe distress and complications. 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

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Review Date: December 26, 2019 | Last Modified: January 23, 2020

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