Xerosis

What is xerosis?

Xerosis is the medical term for dry skin and is a result of decreased water content of the stratum corneum, the top layer of the skin. The oil glands of the skin produce a natural oil coating that protects our skin. If this oil is removed, then the skin becomes dry which can lead to cracking, scaling, inflammation, and even infection. The cracking and scaling often leaves the skin extremely itchy.

What causes xerosis?

Xerosis can be caused by a variety factors, including:

  • washing with excessively hot water;
  • using non-moisturizing soap, such as liquid soap
  • showering or washing more than once a day;
  • bathing for long periods of time; or
  • cold winter weather. Cold weather worsens xerosis because the amount of moisture contained in cold air is much less than the amount of moisture in warm air.

Can xerosis ever be potentially dangerous?

If dry skin develops into patches that are red, itchy or painful, eczema can result. This is dangerous because the skin works as a protective mechanism against infection. If the outer layer of skin – the epidermis – becomes cracked or broken, the chance of infection, including cellulitis, an inflammation of the subcutaneous tissue, increases dramatically. This condition should be treated immediately by a physician.

What kind of soap should I use?

Because soap irritates and dries the skin, soap should not be used on your xerotic skin. When bathing limit the use of soap to your face, armpits, genital area, and feet. It is best to use a mild, moisturizing soap such as Cetaphil ® Bar Soap, Dove® soap, or Lever 2000 ® antibacterial soap

How is xerosis treated?

The goal of therapy is to reverse the fissuring and scaling and add moisture to the skin. Adding water to the outer layer of the skin is most important because water is the substance that provides flexibility to the outer layer of the skin. One way to moisturize the skin is through the use of emollients. These are ointments or creams that can be massaged into the affected area. The emollients will keep the water from evaporating off of the skin’s surface. They will also serve to smooth over the scaly edges, which can flake off, causing intense itching. Emollients should be applied immediately after bathing or showering and reapplied throughout the day. Vaseline or Aquaphor® or excellent moisturizing creams like Cetaphil® moisturizing cream are good examples. Oils can be added to bath water, but they are not as effective as the emollient creams. Furthermore, bathing for long periods of time or with a great deal of frequency can be detrimental to this type of therapy, even though it may give the feeling of relief.

Other creams may contain urea, salicylic acid, lactic acid, vitamin A, or propylene glycols. As with any therapy, the causative factor of the xerosis will accurately predict the ultimate success of any given treatment regiment. For example, if the causative factor is an infectious agent, such as a viral or a bacterial infection, a systemic drug may be necessary. Xerosis in the absence of an infectious agent, however, may require frequent and prolonged moisturizing therapy.

Severe xerosis may need to be treated with a prescription medicine that is either stronger or more effective than over the counter remedies. If lotions do not seem to help the dry skin, it is important to see your local dermatologist. There may be other reasons for the dryness.