Xerosis is a common condition. So common, in fact, that nearly every person will experience xerosis at least once in their lifetime. Xerosis is simply the medical term for very dry skin. It is derived from the Greek words “Xero” meaning dry and “osis” meaning disease or medical disorder.
When skin becomes dry, it can be irritating, itchy, and even painful. Understanding why skin becomes dry and how to treat it can help you achieve a greater level of skin health.
When skin becomes dry, it feels tight and itchy. As it progresses, the skin may become dry and rough, eventually even becoming scaly and flaky. Treating dry skin before it becomes damaged is vital to maintaining good skin health.
Xerosis cutis is the medical term used to describe extremely dry skin. The symptoms of xerosis cutis include itchy, dry skin that may feel tight, rough to the touch, flaky, red, and irritated. Xerosis cutis may be caused by a variety of factors. These include exposure to heat, dehydration, sun exposure, excessive bathing, poor diet, age, and health factors.
Treating xerosis cutis can generally be done at home through better diet and hydration, the application of moisturizing creams, taking cooler and less frequent showers, choosing a gentle cleanser when bathing, and drinking plenty of water.
Diets that are low in fat are also often low in the types of good fat that help maintain proper skin health. Low-fat diets can contribute to dry, flaky skin. Diets that are high in Omega-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids can help skin maintain their moisture barrier and prevent excessive drying. Foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to better skin health. These include salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, flaxseed oil, some eggs, and beef. Foods containing Omega-6 fatty acids include evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
Research has shown that proper hydration is vital to overall health and especially to skin health. Skin cannot maintain moisture that it doesn’t have to begin with. Scientists recommend drinking at least 2 liters of water per day for better health. Study’s have shown that drinking the recommended amount of water resulted in better skin health, especially for people who had been drinking relatively little water before the study.
How often you shower, how hot the water is, and the type of cleanser you choose can all contribute to xerosis cutis. If you are experiencing symptoms of xerosis cutis, try taking showers less frequently, choosing a more gentle cleanser, and turning down the heat.
When treating xerosis cutis, choose moisturizers that contain lactic acid, urea, or both. Water-based lotions may irritate xerosis. Oil-based creams are generally more effective and helping skin to maintain moisture.
What is Xerosis?
Xerosis is the medical term for very dry skin. Xerosis is very common. Most people will experience Xerosis at some point in their life. When skin becomes dry, it can be uncomfortable and even painful. Itchy, dry skin can cause a person to scratch the skin, damaging it and allowing opportunities for infection to enter the body. Treating xerosis before it reaches a critical point is important to maintaining good skin and overall health.
Symptoms of Xerosis
Most people are familiar with dry skin. Very dry skin is referred to in medical terms as “xerosis.” Extremely dry skin is called “xerosis cutis” and refers to skin so dry that it requires intervention to heal.
Xerosis may be experienced chronically by some people, meaning that dry skin is an issue that is ongoing in their life, or that it occurs more than once. Spotting xerosis in the early stages and treating it before it becomes a problem is key to maintaining better skin and overall health.
In the beginning, xerosis is simply tight, dry skin. It may be uncomfortable or itchy. At this stage, xerosis can be treated by better hydration and some moisturizer. As dry skin progresses into xerosis and even xerosis cutis, a person may experience some or all of the following symptoms.
- Tightness – Tightness in the skin occurs because the skin cells are dying off at a faster than normal rate and remaining on the surface of the skin. This layer of dead skin cells cannot maintain moisture and drys out, sometimes causing the skin cells underneath to become dry, as well. This results in a tight feeling.
- Roughness- Depending upon the rate at which the skin cells are dying, the skin may retain such a layer of dead skin cells that the skin begins to feel rough to the touch. This roughness is a layer of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface.
- Redness – The coloring of the skin may seem redder than normal, as the skin is irritated by the buildup of dead skin cells. Also, the skin is often itchy, causing a person to scratch and increasing the redness in the area.
- Flaky Skin – The dead skin cells may begin to flake off. This could look like dust, falling away as a person scratches. This dust is dead skin cells falling away.
- Itching – Itching is a reaction to the dead skin cells building upon the surface of the skin. Scratching this dry, itchy skin is a typical reaction to the discomfort. The urge to scratch may increase as the dry skin condition continues. Scratching can damage the skin and provide an opportunity for an infection to set in.
- Cracking – As the skin continues to dry, the layer of dead skin cells on the surface will continue to build. As the layer gets thicker, small cracks may begin to appear on the surface of the skin.
Treatment of xerosis is primarily aimed at relieving the symptoms, avoiding scratching so that the skin can heal, and providing support so that the skin can once again retain the moisture it needs to be healthy and symptom-free.
What Causes Xerosis?
Xerosis is the medical term used to describe very dry skin. Normal, or un-dry skin, is kept healthy by the normal regulation of moisture in the skin’s surface. Skin regulates the amount of moisture it retains through the hygroscopic molecules in the skin which work to attract and bind water. The skin’s barrier lipids protect against moisture loss due to evaporation.
In normal skin, these functions work together to keep skin healthy and supple. Several internal and external factors can work to disrupt this balance, however, causing dry skin or xerosis.
External Causes of Xerosis
Some external factors may contribute to xerosis. These include dry air, excessive bathing, and sun exposure.
- Dry Air – When the humidity is low, the skin may have a more difficult time maintaining its normal moisture levels. Some geographical regions experience much lower humidity and some seasonal changes can reduce humidity temporarily. Very hot summer and winter are generally times of the year when environmental humidity is at its lowest point. These are times when people may find themselves suffering from more dry skin than is normal.
- Excessive Bathing – Showering or bathing very often can strip the skin of its natural barrier, allowing moisture to escape at a faster than normal rate. The types of cleansers used in bathing can also contribute to dry skin.
- Sun Exposure – Excessive sun exposure can dry the skin as the UV light increases the evaporation of water from the skin. Over time, excess sunlight can prematurely age skin, as well, which decreases the skin's ability to maintain moisture levels.
Internal Causes of Xerosis
Some causes of xerosis lie within. What a person eats and drinks contributes to their overall health and can have a dramatic effect on their skin health. Internal causes of xerosis include genetics, a lack of hydration, diet, age and some medications.
- Genetics – Genes play a large role in skin health. Some people are born with conditions that result in chronically dry skin. These individuals will require additional hydration, both internal and external, for life.
- Dehydration – Research has shown that proper hydration is vital to overall health and especially to skin health. Skin cannot maintain moisture that it doesn’t have to begin with. Scientists recommend drinking at least 2 liters of water per day for better health. Study’s have shown that drinking the recommended amount of water resulted in better skin health, especially for people who had been drinking relatively little water before the study.
- Diet – Low-fat diets can contribute to dry, flaky skin. Diets that are high in Omega-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids can help skin maintain their moisture barrier and prevent excessive drying. Foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to better skin health. These include salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, flaxseed oil, some eggs, and beef. Foods containing Omega-6 fatty acids include evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
- Age – As people age, the layers of skin get thinner and less able to maintain proper moisture. Caring for skin in the early years can help maintain good skin health longer. Once the skin has begun to dry due to age, moisturizers can help maintain the body’s lipid levels, and prevent further drying and damage.
- Medications – Certain medications can dehydrate the body and contribute to dry skin. Diuretics are particularly notorious for causing xerosis.
Do I Need a Doctor for my Xerosis?
A person does not generally need to see a doctor for xerosis. However, if your skin is cracked, bleeding, oozing, or peeling, you should seek professional treatment. For xerosis on the feet or legs, Dr. Kleis can assist you in determining the cause and proper course of treatment. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Kleis, call (714) 760-4944 or book an appointment online.