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Dry skin: causes, relief, tips

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 353 views

With dry skin , the skin’s natural oil and moisture regulation is disturbed. The skin becomes rough and brittle, in extreme cases cracks and eczema form. Seniors in particular suffer from dry skin because the skin produces less moisture with age. However, external factors such as cold and heat as well as malnutrition and diseases can also cause dry skin. Read here how dry skin develops and what you can do about it.

brief overview

  • Causes: external factors (e.g. heat, cold, sun exposure), diet, certain medications, stress and mental strain, biological factors (such as age), diseases such as neurodermatitis, allergies, psoriasis, contact dermatitis (skin rash), leg ulcers (ulcer on the lower leg) , diabetes mellitus (diabetes), hypothyroidism , Crohn’s disease, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, celiac disease
  • Treatment: Depending on the trigger, e.g. with medication (such as cortisone), also treatment of underlying diseases (such as diabetes)
  • Self-treatment and prevention: proper skin care, sun protection, protecting the skin from dry heating air in winter (e.g. with an air humidifier), balanced, healthy nutrition, drinking enough, as little alcohol as possible, no smoking, lots of exercise in the fresh air, household remedies (such as a face mask with Avocado)
  • When to the doctor? If your own measures do not change anything about the dry skin; if the skin suddenly dries out, burns, flakes, itches or becomes inflamed for no apparent reason; if you have additional symptoms such as hair loss , headaches, dizziness or nausea
  • What does the doctor? Anamnesis (collecting the medical history), physical examination of the affected skin areas with a magnifying glass or microscope, allergy test, blood/ urine test if necessary , tissue sample; if certain underlying diseases are suspected: stool examination , colonoscopy , ultrasound , X-ray examination

Dry skin: causes

Normally, the sebaceous and sweat glands continuously produce a mix of fat and water that keeps the skin supple. Dry skin occurs when the sebaceous glands produce too little oil. The functionality of the skin then suffers: For example, it can no longer adequately protect the organism from external influences such as UV radiation, pathogens or mechanical injuries, and it can no longer fully regulate body temperature and water balance.

Dry skin is particularly common on the face. But lower legs, shins, feet, hands, elbows and forearms can also be affected. Dry skin feels rough and brittle. It is fine-pored, tight, flaky and itchy. Red spots are also common. Dry skin tears easily and is sensitive to cold and/or heat. In extreme cases, dehydration eczema can form: the skin tears and becomes inflamed.

Usually external influences, biological factors, but also certain diseases cause dry skin.

external factors

  • The weather can irritate the skin. If you sweat in summer, for example, the body loses fluid and the skin dries out faster. Air conditioning and solar radiation increase this effect. But even in cold temperatures, the skin can dry out quickly. Because at an outside temperature of 8 °C or less, the sebaceous glands stop producing. In addition, you hardly sweat when it is cold, so that less moisture reaches the epidermis in winter. This messes up the fat and water balance of the skin, resulting in dry skin. Wind, wetness and heating air further promote dehydration. Parts of the body that are not protected by clothing such as the face, lips and hands are particularly affected.
  • Diet also affects the complexion. In particular, malnutrition and malnutrition and the resulting underweight dry out the skin. Anyone who drinks too little, smokes a lot and/or drinks alcohol regularly also quickly develops dry skin.
  • In addition, stress and mental strain can dry out the skin.
  • Dry skin can also occur as a side effect of medications that affect fluid balance in the body or certain gland functions. These include skin creams containing cortisone, retinoids (used to treat acne and psoriasis), diuretics (medicines that flush water out) and chemotherapy drugs (used to treat cancer). Radiation for cancer can also dry out the skin.

biological factors

  • With increasing age , the moisture content of the skin decreases. In addition, the skin binds less moisture with age and the sweat glands produce less sweat. Both also dry out the skin.
  • The genetic predisposition also influences the skin’s appearance – dry skin can also be family-related.


Certain skin disorders are associated with dry skin. But other diseases can also be associated with dry skin. The main disorders associated with dry skin include:

  • neurodermatitis
  • allergies
  • psoriasis
  • Contact dermatitis (rash)
  • Ichthyoses (also called fish scale disease, hereditary disease of the top layer of the cornea)
  • Mouth rose (perioral dermatitis, skin rashes around the mouth)
  • Ulcus cruris (ulcer on the lower leg)
  • Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)
  • hypothyroidism
  • Intestinal diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease or intestinal inflammation)
  • gastric mucosal inflammation
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (due to increased production of the hormone gastrin, the stomach produces too much acid and ulcers develop in the gastrointestinal area)
  • Celiac disease (chronic disease of the small intestinal mucosa caused by gluten intolerance)

Dry skin: treatment

The treatment of dry skin depends on the causes. The dermatologist can, for example, use preparations containing cortisone or recommend care products that are specially tailored to your skin and moisturize the skin. Underlying diseases such as neurodermatitis or diabetes must be treated accordingly. But you can also do something yourself against dry skin.


The be-all and end-all for dry skin is the right skin care. For example, you should only wash dry skin with mild substances that are ideally pH-neutral and fragrance-free. You should refrain from using alcohol-based tonics because they dry out your skin. Always apply lotion to dry skin after a bath or shower to compensate for the loss of moisture.

Extremely dry and calloused areas of skin are best kept supple with water-free fat creams. In winter you can protect your face from drying out with a moisturizing face cream. Care sticks with jojoba oil, beeswax or palm wax are suitable for the lips. For longer walks or winter sports, you should use a care stick with a UV filter.

Since older people often suffer from dry skin, they should pay more attention to adequate skin care.


A balanced diet also protects against dry skin. Fresh fruit and vegetables provide important minerals and vitamins for the cells. Drink enough, preferably water, fruit spritzers, fruit or herbal teas. On the other hand, you should avoid alcohol as much as possible, as it can also dry out the skin. The same applies to smoking.

home remedies

Some sufferers swear by home remedies for dry skin, for example:

  • coconut oil
  • almond oil
  • aloe vera
  • avocado
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • carrot juice
  • clay

Mixed with water, rose water or a high-quality oil and applied as a cream or mask, the substances can moisturize dry skin and make it supple again.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.


Get plenty of exercise in the fresh air, as this will promote blood circulation in your skin and prevent dry skin. You should avoid frequent direct sunlight. To protect your skin from dry heating air in winter, you can use air humidifiers or set up bowls of water.

Dry skin: when do you need to see a doctor?

If you have naturally dry skin or your skin becomes drier with age, moisturizing care products will usually help.

You should see a (dermatologist) if:

  • You have been suffering from dry skin for a long time and applying cream does not alleviate the symptoms.
  • the skin suddenly becomes dry for no apparent reason.
  • develop scaly and dry patches of skin.
  • the skin is painful, red and inflamed.

Additional symptoms such as hair loss , headaches , dizziness and nausea , significant weight gain or loss, severe thirst, frequent urination, inner restlessness or unusual anxiety make a doctor’s visit urgently necessary.

Dry skin: what does the doctor do?

At the beginning there is an anamnesis (collecting the medical history), during which your doctor will ask you in detail about your symptoms. Possible questions are:

  • How long have you had dry skin?
  • Did you change your diet before your skin got dry?
  • Do you regularly take medication?
  • Is the dry skin accompanied by other symptoms?
  • Do you suffer from a certain underlying disease such as an allergy or diabetes?

Physical exams

After the medical history, the doctor will examine you physically. The dermatologist concentrates on the changed areas of the skin and examines them with a magnifying glass or a microscope. In this way he can determine how moist or oily the skin looks and whether it is noticeably rough. An allergy test can also show whether the dry skin is due to an allergic overreaction of the immune system.

laboratory tests

Special blood tests and urine tests can also be informative. This allows deviations in the salt-water balance, deficiencies and hormonal disorders to be determined.

Using a tissue sample ( biopsy ), the doctor can diagnose psoriasis or ichthyosis.

With the help of a stool examination, a colonoscopy, ultrasound and X-ray examinations, other diseases can be identified as possible causes of dry skin .

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