Dry Skin and Keratosis Pilaris

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Dry skin and keratosis pilaris are common. Dry skin can occur at any age and for many reasons. Keratosis pilaris is an inherited skin condition that develops in almost half of the population. Sometimes a dermatologist’s help is necessary to get relief from dry skin and keratosis pilaris.

WHAT IS DRY SKIN?

Skin becomes dry when it loses too much water or oil. Skin generally becomes drier as we age, during the winter, and in low-humidity climates such as the desert.

Dry skin can have the following symptoms:

  • Rough, scaly, or flaking
  • Gray, ashy appearance in people with dark
  • Cracks in the skin, which may bleed if
  • Chapped or cracked

When dry skin cracks, germs can get in through the skin. Once inside, germs can cause an infection. Red, sore spots on the skin may be an early sign of an infection. Restoring lost moisture can make the skin softer, smoother, less itchy and less likely to crack.

TIPS TO CARE FOR DRY SKIN

• Use warm water

Hot water removes your natural skin oils more quickly. Warm water is best for bathing. Quick showers (less than 10 minutes) are suggested.

• Be good to your face

If you have very dry skin, cleanse your face just once a day, at night. In the morning, rinse your face with cool water.

• Use a mild soap

Look for a mild, fragrance-free soap or cleanser that moisturizes. Deodorant bars, strong fragrances in soaps, and products containing alcohol can strip natural oils from the skin. This dries the skin. Exfoliating soaps that feel like sand can cause damage to the skin.

• Shave after bathing

It is best to shave after bathing when hairs are soft. To lessen the irritating effects of shaving (face or legs) on dry

skin, make sure you use a shaving cream or gel. When possible, allow the product to remain on the skin about

3 minutes before starting to shave. Then shave in the direction that the hair grows. Change razor blades or throw away disposable razors after 5 to 7 shaves to help minimize irritation.

• Moisturize right after washing

A 5- to 10-minute bath or shower adds moisture to the skin. Spending more time in the water often leaves your skin less hydrated than before you started. To retain moisture from a bath or shower, apply an ointment or cream while the skin is still moist, within 3 minutes of drying off.

• Look at the ingredients in your moisturizer

For very dry skin, a moisturizer that contains urea or lactic acid may be helpful. These ingredients help the skin hold water. There are moisturizers with these ingredients available both over-the-counter and by prescription. While these ingredients can sting if you have eczema or cracked skin, they do benefit the skin.

• Use a humidifier

Keep the air in your home moist with a humidifier.

• Soothe chapped lips

At bedtime, apply a lip balm that contains petrolatum. Other names for this ingredient are petroleum jelly and mineral oil.

• Keep skin protected when outdoors in winter

In the cold, wear a scarf and gloves to help prevent chapped lips and hands.

Keeping your skin well moisturized should improve dry skin. If the dryness worsens, contact your dermatologist.

WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF MY SKIN GETS TOO DRY?

In some people, areas of extremely dry skin can lead to other skin conditions such as dermatitis or keratosis pilaris.

Dermatitis

Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. It can cause an itchy rash or patches of dry skin.

When dermatitis is present, your dermatologist may prescribe medication such as a corticosteroid (a type of cortisone) or an immune modulator (tacrolimus, pimecrolimus). Applied to the affected skin, these medications can relieve the itch, redness, and swelling. Regular use of a moisturizer can help avoid dermatitis flares.


Dermatitis

Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris are tiny, flesh-colored or slightly red bumps that give the skin a texture like sandpaper. Sometimes called “chicken skin,” keratosis pilaris occurs most often when the skin becomes very dry. Some people only have keratosis pilaris flare-ups when their skin becomes very dry.

Most common in children and teens, the bumps appear on the upper arms and thighs. In children, they also are common on the cheeks and can be mistaken for acne. Each tiny bump is a plug of dead skin cells.

Keratosis pilaris sometimes itches, mainly during the winter and in low-humidity climates. When humidity increases, usually during the summer, the skin becomes less itchy and the bumps become less red and less obvious.

HOW DOES A DERMATOLOGIST TREAT KERATOSIS PILARIS?

Keratosis pilaris is harmless. You may want to seek treatment to relieve the itch or improve the appearance of these tiny bumps.

Moisturizers may help with the dryness and itch. Creams that contain urea or lactic acid are often effective moisturizers. Moisturizers do not generally clear the bumps. A mild chemical exfoliant, either a product containing salicylic acid or those prescribed or recommended by a dermatologist, can effectively remove the excess dead skin and get rid of the bumps. Topical (applied-to-the-skin) retinoids also may help.


keratosis pilaris

Though keratosis pilaris can be effectively treated, results do not last long. Patients must repeat treatment often or the keratosis pilaris returns. Some patients respond to treatment better than others. For many, keratosis pilaris goes away by adulthood.

A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating the medical, surgical, and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair and nails. To learn more about dry skin or find a dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org or call toll free (888) 462-DERM (3376).

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides

American Academy of Dermatology

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