During the cold winter months, surveys show that most American adults struggle with excessively dry skin (also known as xerosis). (1) But many people experience dry skin all year round, not just when the outside temperatures dip and humidity levels plummet.
This issue is about far more than just cosmetics and appearance.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ. (2) Healthy, well-moisturized skin plays an important role in your health, protecting your body from infection and disease. (3) Hydrated, healthy skin is also better-able to defend itself against the damage caused by toxins, air pollutants and the sun’s ultraviolet rays. And maintaining this defense is necessary for staving off wrinkles, age spots, fine lines and other signs of premature aging. (4)
If you want to rejuvenate your skin’s untouched luminescence and boost the health, vitality and strength of your body’s largest organ, it’s time to naturally restore your skin’s moisture and beat xerosis once and for all.
What Is Xerosis?
The term “xerosis” comes from the Greek language. (5) “Xero-” means “dry” and “-osis” is loosely translated to mean “disease.” It’s not to be confused with xeroderma, a rare genetic disorder.
Today, xerosis is the medical term doctors use to talk about dry skin. But this is not just any ordinary case of dry skin — it’s the annoying, itchy, severe dryness that you may experience during the cold of winter or when your skin is under a lot of stress.
Signs and Symptoms
According to the American Skin Association, (6) some of the most common symptoms of xerosis are ones you’re likely familiar with if you’ve ever experienced dry skin:
- It appears red, irritated or inflamed.
- Its texture is scaly or rough to the touch.
- Its sensations are itchy or even painful.
Visually, which you can see in xerosis pictures, you may also notice that xerosis accentuates your skin’s current markings, perhaps underscoring scaly patterns in your skin or web-like lines across your skin surface. (7) If left untreated, xerosis symptoms can progress to:
- Scaly skin
Causes and Risk Factors
In the aforementioned survey, people said they noticed their xerosis got worse in the winter. The American Skin Association reports that this is because the combination of lower humidity levels and colder temperatures suck the moisture out of your skin. (6) Additionally, the use of heaters and air ventilation during the winter can further dehydrate your skin.
While you don’t have direct control over weather-related risk factors, many other common factors in your day-to-day habits and personal lifestyle may contribute to xerosis:
- Over-scrubbing or over-cleaning your skin, including the use of harsh soaps, detergents and cleansers. In one national survey, nearly half of all people who had xerosis still used harsh body or hand soap on their face. (8)
- Extended sun exposure, which can provoke xerosis in the summertime.
- Using water that’s too hot during baths and showers.
- Experiencing dietary dehydration by not drinking enough fluids or eating enough hydrating foods.
- Spending extended periods of time in centrally heated or cooled homes or offices (these systems dry out the air around you, which dries out your skin).
You may wish to discuss with your doctor or medical professional about non-lifestyle risk factors that may affect you. For example, as you age, your skin becomes thinner and produces less oil. This is why xerosis cutis is more common in those ages 65 and older. (9)
Men and women with diabetes may also be at a higher risk of xerosis due to issues with blood circulation.
Conventional at-home care typically involves xerosis treatments aimed at addressing the symptoms of xerosis.
Your dermatologist may recommend a topical steroid medication, available over-the-counter or via a compounding pharmacist. Examples include 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, (10) and these topical medications can help to reduce itching and irritation caused by xerosis.
Conventional skincare products may also be suggested, with moisturizing ingredients such as: (11)
However, while these may help soothe away some of your surface concerns, it doesn’t tackle hydration on the deeper health level, nor on the lifestyle level. For that, you may wish to try natural xerosis treatment tips.
Natural Ways to Treat Dry Skin
1. Keep It Cool and Short
One of the most important xerosis home remedies is opting for shorter showers. When you do bathe, try and use cooler water or lukewarm water, not hot water. Hot water strips your skin of its natural oils, leaving your xerosis worse than before. (12)
After showering, pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Avoid rubbing your skin vigorously, as this may further exacerbate dryness and irritation.
2. Moisturize After Showering
Immediately after patting your skin dry, apply a natural moisturizer to your skin surface. This helps to trap the moisture from the shower, keeping your skin surface soothed and hydrated.
Instead of conventional skin creams, which may contain fragrances, dyes and other ingredients that can dry out your skin or irritate your current xerosis, try moisturizers made with natural plant-based oils that soothe and hydrate: (13)
- Olive oil
- Almond oil
- Avocado oil
- Wheat germ oil
- Flaxseed oil
3. Drink Enough Water
Your skin is 64 percent water. (14) If your dietary habits aren’t providing your body with enough water, this dehydration often shows up in your skin first.
This requirement can fluctuate wildly based on factors like your lifestyle (e.g. athletes need more fluids than those who aren’t active) and the weather (your body needs more hydration on very hot or very cold days).
One way to quickly ascertain if you’re staying hydrated is by checking the toilet bowl for dehydration symptoms. If you’re getting enough fluids, your urine will be clear or pale in color. Dark urine means you are not drinking enough.
4. Eat for Skin Health
Combating xerosis and keeping your skin glowing and healthy isn’t just about drinking water. The foods you eat play a role in skin health and replenishing your skin moisture. In general, avoiding sugar and allergens is key. If you’re not sure where to start, try a few of the following foods as snacks: (16)
- Eat healthy fats. The polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in nuts, seeds and avocados moisturize your skin from the inside out. Likewise, the omega-3s in fish can keep skin hydrated while also acting as an anti-inflammatory to reduce skin irritation and redness.
- Get more zinc. This mineral is found in whole grains, shellfish, nuts and poultry. Zinc ensures your skin produces enough of its own natural oils, which keeps skin soft and also protects your skin from dryness. It also improves thyroid health, which the Thyroid Foundation reports may affect skin appearance.
- Boost your vitamin E intake. This antioxidant helps with skin growth, so your skin can better and more quickly repair itself after xerosis. You’ll find vitamin E in hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts and almonds.
5. Eliminate Drying Ingredients and Products
Now that you’ve taken care of your skin health from the inside out, and changed how you wash and moisturize your skin surface, it’s time to eliminate the many common things in your life that may provoke your xerosis to return.
If you simply address your internal health factors and not the environmental factors, you’ll be constantly waging a war with dry skin. When it comes to xerosis treatment for adults, watch for these likely enemies:
- Heaters and air conditioners. If the air around you is chronically dry due to these devices, your skin will be constantly losing moisture to the dry air. If necessary, Harvard Medical School recommends using a humidifier set to 60 percent. (17)
- Skin irritants. We’ve already discussed harsh soaps and detergents, but think outside the soap bar. Culprits include perfume (18), skincare products that contain alcohol (19), and laundry products like fabric softeners and detergents that contain fragrances. (20)
- Rough garments made out of material like wool can wick moisture away from your skin, and the harsh textures can also inflame and irritate xerosis and other skin conditions. (16)
Remember, xerosis isn’t just about cosmetics and appearances. It means your skin health is compromised, and if left untreated, xerosis can progress to painful cracks that can bleed and become infected. You should see a dermatologist about your xerosis if:
- Your skin is oozing fluids
- Your rash or red skin forms a ring-shaped pattern (this may be ringworm)
- Entire sheets of skin are peeling off
- Your skin doesn’t improve, or gets worse, after treatment.
You may also want to consult a medical professional if you experience xerosis alongside other skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema. Combined, these skin conditions can be painful and introduce new risks of infection.
Xerosis is a very common dry skin condition that affects people all year round and is not cause for serious medical alarm. However, it’s important to address before your skin health is seriously compromised.
- Xerosis is the medical term doctors use to describe very dry skin, which affects a majority of the population, especially during the dry and cold winter months.
- Xerosis symptoms include red, irritated or inflamed skin that’s scaly, rough and itchy or painful.
- If left untreated, xerosis symptoms can progress to more serious cases that include bleeding, cracked skin and scaly skin.
- Some of the most common causes of xerosis include harsh soaps, overly long showers or baths, and poor habits when it comes to diet and hydration.
- Xerosis can also be a side effect of aging, diabetes and some medications.