Mild Dry Skin
Mild dry skin is a common condition which most of us will experience at some point, more so in the winter months. During winter our bodies are exposed to more extreme temperatures as well as the drying effects of central heating.
For many people dry skin is not a sign of a skin condition, it just means that they need to moisturise their skin more regularly. However, widespread dry, cracked, itchy skin which persists beyond two weeks should be seen by your GP.
What causes dry skin?
The skin is made up of many different layers and it forms a natural barrier to protect our body from the outside environment. To help protect the outer layer of skin from losing water, the skin produces an oily substance called sebum. If the skin doesn’t have enough sebum, it loses water and feels dry.
Common causes of dry skin:
- Excessive bathing
- Showering, scrubbing the skin while washing, or harsh soaps that dissolve the protective layer of sebum
- Environmental conditions that increase water loss, such as very hot, dry weather or central heating
- Frequent exposure to wind and sun can evaporate water from the skin, making the surface feel itchy and dry
Decreased production of sebum. This is often a factor in the elderly.
Prevention and treatment for dry skin
There are lifestyle changes that can be made which can help to treat and prevent future outbreaks of dry skin:
- Stop smoking
- Drink plenty of water
- Dry air (low humidity) increases the risk of dry skin. Increasing humidity can help, which can be achieved by placing a damp towel on a warm radiator
Reduce the length of your bath or shower
- Avoid harsh soaps and bubble baths.
These lifestyle changes may help to reduce the dryness of the skin but further moisturising may still be required, in which case emollients (moisturisers) can be used.
The British Association of Dermatology recommends speaking to your pharmacist for advice on moisturisers and states that 'just because a cream is more expensive doesn’t mean that it is better than cheaper ones.'
Emollients are moisturising treatments applied directly to the skin to soothe and hydrate it. They cover the skin with a protective film to trap in moisture and are often used to help manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis. Emollients are readily available to buy from supermarkets or pharmacies and can be used as a moisturiser or a soap substitute.
You can find out more about dry skin and emollients here;
Be Self Care Aware; in the last 12 months Shropshire CCG spent £89,000 prescribing creams and other preparations for mild dry skin and sunburn which could have been bought over the counter.
British Association of Dermatologists, Common symptoms, Dry Skin, 2018, available at: https://www.skinhealthinfo.org.uk/symptoms-treatments/common-symptoms/ [accessed 17/1/2020]
NHS Website, Emollients, August 2017, available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/emollients [accessed 20/1/2020]
Patient UK, How to stop dry skin from ruining your winter? Published 23 October, 2018, available at: https://patient.info/news-and-features/why-dry-skin-winter [accessed 16/1/2020]
PrescQIPP, Strategic Activity Reports, Low Priority Prescribing, available at: https://www.prescqipp.info/our-resources/data-and-analysis/strategic-activity-reports/low-priority-prescribing [accessed 16/1/2020]
The following patient information leaflet offers advice on Hand dermatitis/hand eczema, How to care for your hands, Plantar warts, Herpes Simplex, and Fungal infections of the nails:
Links to NHS online information:
- NHS - Common skin conditions (a short guide to some of the most common skin conditions)
- NHS - Emollients (types of emollients, how/when to use emollients, and safety advice)