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Xerosis Cutis (Dry Skin): Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors And Treatment

Dry skin is normal but extremely dry skin can be irritating and cause discomfort. Medically termed as xerosis cutis, the condition is increasingly reported in older people. The condition was named after the Greek word 'xero' which translates to dry [1] .

A minor and temporary problem, xerosis cutis develops mainly in old age because with age retaining moisture within your skin becomes difficult - causing your skin to become rough due to the lack of oils and water [2] .

Xerosis cutis mostly develops during the winter season, therefore, it is necessary to change your daily routine.

Causes Of Xerosis Cutis

A decrease in the oil on the surface of your skin causes xerosis cutis and is mainly triggered by environmental factors. The major causes of the condition are as follows [3] :

  • Living in areas with low humidity
  • Extended sun exposure
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Taking baths or showers using excessively hot water
  • Living in areas with cold, dry winters
  • Over-cleansing or over-scrubbing the skin
  • Bathing too frequently
  • Extensive towel drying
  • Using central heating

Symptoms Of Xerosis Cutis

The signs which indicate that you have this skin condition are as follows [4] :

  • Cracks on the skin
  • Skin that feels tight, especially after bathing
  • White, flaky skin
  • Red or pink irritated skin
  • Skin that is dry, itchy and scaly, especially on the arms and legs

Risk Factors Of Xerosis Cutis

One of the most common risk factors for the condition is the cold winter months. During the cold seasons, the air is very dry and the low humidity to plays a role [5] .

Age is also a risk factor as older people are more susceptible to developing the condition than younger people because, with age, the sweat glands and the sebaceous gland become less active due to the changes in hormones - thereby causing your skin to become extremely dry. Xerosis cutis is a common problem in individuals aged 65 and older [6] .

One of the other risk factors of the xerosis cutis are conditions such as diabetes.

When To See A Doctor

As dry skin is a common condition, people often tend to pay no attention to it. However, when left untreated, xerosis cutis can aggravate into serious skin issues. And if you develop the following, consult a doctor immediately [7] :

  • A ring-shaped rash
  • Oozing skin
  • Large areas of skin peeling off
  • The dry skin does not improve even after a few weeks

Treatment For Xerosis Cutis

The dermatologist will give you medications to manage the symptoms and that help improve the moisture levels [8] .

Apart from these, at-home care is the best suitable and effective treatment for xerosis cutis. Treating dry skin at home includes regularly using moisturisers. An oil-based cream is the best suitable option than a water-based cream [9] .

Studies point out that, using creams that has lactic acid, urea, or a combination of both can be beneficial.

Also, avoid exposure to forced heat, take lukewarm baths or showers and drink plenty of water [10] .

A recent study has pointed out that aloe vera may help improve the condition.

Note: Products that are marked 'lotion' contains less oil. Always opt 'cream' because water-based lotions may irritate xerosis cutis instead of healing your skin or soothing the symptoms.

Preventing Xerosis Cutis

It is impossible to prevent the onset of dry skin, especially when it is due to ageing. However, there are ways you could help avoid or reduce the symptom by adopting the following steps [11] :

  • Avoid excessive water exposure
  • Do not spend much time in a hot tub or pool
  • Pat the skin dry after a shower with a towel instead of rubbing the towel on your body
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Use oil-based moisturising lotions, especially in the winter
  • Use a sunscreen when going outdoors
  • Limit the use of soap on dry areas of skin
    Choose soaps with added-oil
  • Use gentle cleansers without any dyes, fragrances, or alcohol
  • Use a humidifier to increase the moisture of the air in your home
  • Avoid scratching the affected area
View Article References
  1. [1] Rogers, R. S., Callen, J., Wehr, R., & Krochmal, L. (1989). Comparative efficacy of 12% ammonium lactate lotion and 5% lactic acid lotion in the treatment of moderate to severe xerosis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 21(4), 714-716.
  2. [2] Cristaudo, A., Francesconi, L., Ambrifi, M., Frasca, M., Cavallotti, C., & Sperduti, E. (2015). Efficacy of an emollient dermoprotective cream in the treatment of elderly skin affected by xerosis. Giornale italiano di dermatologia e venereologia: organo ufficiale, Societa italiana di dermatologia e sifilografia, 150(3), 297-302.
  3. [3] Uy, J. J., Joyce, A. M., Nelson, J. P., West, B., & Montague, J. R. (1999). Ammonium lactate 12% lotion versus a liposome-based moisturizing lotion for plantar xerosis. A double-blind comparison study. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 89(10), 502-505.
  4. [4] Mekić, S., Jacobs, L. C., Gunn, D. A., Mayes, A. E., Ikram, M. A., Pardo, L. M., & Nijsten, T. (2019). Prevalence and determinants for xerosis cutis in the middle-aged and elderly population: A cross-sectional study. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 81(4), 963-969.
  5. [5] Ryu, T. H., Kwon, I. H., Seo, S. H., Ahn, H. H., Kye, Y. C., & Choi, J. E. (2017). Xerosis Cutis with Secondary Bacterial Infection: An Occupational Disease of Scrubbers in Public Bathhouses. 대한피부과학회지, 55(2), 154-155.
  6. [6] Akarsu, S., Ozbagcivan, O., Ilknur, T., Semiz, F., Inci, B. B., & Fetil, E. (2018). Xerosis cutis and associated co-factors in women with prurigo nodularis. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia, 93(5), 671-679.
  7. [7] Wu, C. M., Wu, A. M., Lester, J., & Robinson-Bostom, L. (2015). Xerosis. In Dermatological Manifestations of Kidney Disease (pp. 75-79). Springer, New York, NY.
  8. [8] Augustin, M., Wilsmann‐Theis, D., Körber, A., Kerscher, M., Itschert, G., Dippel, M., & Staubach, P. (2018). Positionspapier: Diagnostik und Therapie der Xerosis cutis. JDDG: Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft, 16, 3-35.
  9. [9] Augustin, M., Wilsmann-Theis, D., Koerber, A., Kerscher, M., Itschert, G., Dippel, M., & Staubach, P. (2018). Diagnostics and treatment of the xerosis cutis-a position paper. JOURNAL DER DEUTSCHEN DERMATOLOGISCHEN GESELLSCHAFT, 16, 3-35.
  10. [10] Danby, S. G. (2016). Biological variation in skin barrier function: from A (atopic dermatitis) to X (xerosis). In Skin barrier function (Vol. 49, pp. 47-60). Karger Publishers.
  11. [11] Ritter, C. G. (2018). Xerosis. In Dermatology in Public Health Environments (pp. 1369-1378). Springer, Cham.
Story first published: Wednesday, October 30, 2019, 13:23 [IST]
Read more about: skin problems symptoms
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