The Many Faces of Dry Skin - NBC4 Washington

The Many Faces of Dry Skin

What's itching you?



    The Many Faces of Dry Skin

    If you’re like most people these days, you’re itchy. Maybe it's from the fluctuating temps, the dry air, the beckoning of the all-too-quickly-approaching winter days. But what’s really itching you?

    “Virtually all patients suffer from some form of dry skin during the winter months,” said Radha Mikkilineni, M.D., Medical Director of the University of Dermatology Associates, PLLC, located on 19th Street. “Areas on the body that are most prone to dry skin are the hands and feet, where there can be white scaling or cracking and redness.” 

    Many contributing factors can ultimately lead to this scratchy annoyance. Soaps and frequent, long showers can cause sensitivity, because harsh chemicals and steamy temperatures remove lipids. Dry air, heating and air conditioning reduce atmospheric humidity as well, which leads to decreased moisture levels of the skin. 

    Believe it or not, dry skin can actually lead to complications, including atopic dermatitis. The Mayo Clinic explains that if you have the tendency to develop the condition, untreated dry skin can lead to the activation of the disease. Other complications like folliculitis, or the inflammation of hair follicles, as well as cellulitis, the infection of the skin’s tissues, may arise.

    Tips to alleviate dry skin include skipping the harsh soaps and selecting mild cleansers like Neutrogena or Dove. Need more advice? After bathing, immediately apply lotions or oils to help trap in water on the surface of the skin. Use lotions like Eucerin and Cetaphil, or opt for baby oils, which are more effective at locking in moisture than just lotion alone. 

    “Special creams formulated for hands, known as barrier creams, are very helpful as they stay put, despite frequent hand washing,” Mikkilineni said. In addition to lotions, increase the humidity in your home environment by purchasing a humidifier, which will counteract the effects of hot, dry air.

    If these methods aren’t effective in lessening dry skin, then make an appointment with a physician to determine if the cause is instead from a skin condition. Additionally, you should seek the advice of a doctor if you are unable to sleep from extreme dry skin and if you experience open sores, infections or have large areas of peeling skin. 

    “When there is irritation to the skin and dryness, the skin barrier becomes impaired, so we are more prone to developing infections,” Mikkilineni said. “Treatment with prescription medications is sometimes necessary to clear infections and to calm down inflammation so that the skin barrier can heal and re-form.”

    Other causes of dry skin can be traced to medical conditions like psoriasis, or the build-up of rough cells that form visible scaly areas. Psoriasis can result in dry skin that may crack, bleed, blister or even ooze pus. The condition isn’t constant, though, and it may wax and wane over extended periods of time.

    Eczema is another chronic skin disorder that causes dry, scratchy skin. According to the National Eczema Association, eczema is just another word for any type of dermatitis or a rash. “Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is often present on the inner parts of the elbows, the hands, the back of the knees or the shins,” said Mikkilineni. Some additional types of eczema include contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema and seborrheic dermatitis.

    Keratosis pilaris is also a skin condition that causes small bumps, similar to the shape of acne, which appear on the legs, buttocks or upper arms. Ichthyosis vulgaris, on the other hand, results in the accumulation of thick, dry scales.  The condition is often referred to as the fish-scale or fish-skin disease, as the scales often form small, polygonal patterns. Flaking of the scalp and deep fissuring on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet may occur as well.

    Whether you have dry skin or a skin-related condition, there are methods to ease the effects of irritation. So go ahead and throw out that backscratcher -- grab a jar of lotion and a gentle cleanser, maybe dial up your doctor, and take back control of the health of your skin. 

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