How Can I Deal with Rough Dry Skin?

Jennifer Voight

Although rough dry skin can have a variety of causes and treatments, there are precautions that people can take to lessen its severity and improve its appearance. Either physical exfoliation, like using a rough washcloth or loofah, or chemical exfoliation can slough dry skin cells from rough dry skin and leave skin appearing smoother. After exfoliating and gently patting dry, applying a moisturizer that contains either petrolatum or lanolin can lock in moisture and further smooth out rough spots. Showering less frequently in warm, not hot, water and keeping showers short can also help to prevent moisture loss from rough dry skin. When showering, it's best to avoid bar soaps and use gentle, fragrance-free shower gels to avoid stripping or irritating skin.

Rough dry heels and elbows can be soothed with a daily application of petroleum jelly.
Rough dry heels and elbows can be soothed with a daily application of petroleum jelly.

The most frequent cause of rough dry skin is from environmental causes like low humidity, exposure to cold or wind, frequent bathing or baths that are too hot. Rough dry skin can be easily irritated and can hurt and itch, especially if skin becomes cracked or scaly. Environmental causes can be remedied by using a humidifier, protecting skin when out in the cold, and bathing less frequently. Moisturizers work best if applied right after showering, since they do not add moisture to skin, but lock in moisture that's already there. It's also important to hydrate the body by drinking lots of water and eating a wide variety of healthy foods, so the body is able to repair itself.

Moisturizers with lactic acid work best for keratosis pilaris.
Moisturizers with lactic acid work best for keratosis pilaris.

If these actions do not improve dry skin, it's wise to rule out certain medical conditions that may require treatment from a physician or dermatologist. Rough dry skin can be caused by thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, dermatitis, or eczema. Many children and some adults have a condition called keratosis pilaris, also called, "chicken skin," in which the skin becomes rough and covered with hard bumps. This is caused by a build-up of keratin on the skin surface that binds with perspiration and skin oils. Although generally harmless, it can become easily irritated and may embarrass the sufferer.

Bar soap may make a person's skin dry.
Bar soap may make a person's skin dry.

When exfoliation, moisturizing, and protecting skin from extremes do not help rough dry skin, a dermatologist may prescribe topical medications that are applied directly to the skin. Corticosteroids or immune modulators may soothe irritated skin and help it heal. Advanced moisturizers that contain ingredients like urea or lactic acid can work even better than petrolatum- and lanolin-containing moisturizers. However, if skin is already cracked, these medications could further irritate sensitive, dry areas.

Cutting back on manually washing dishes can help with dry skin on hands.
Cutting back on manually washing dishes can help with dry skin on hands.
Shower gel products with moisturizing ingredients may help relieve rough dry skin.
Shower gel products with moisturizing ingredients may help relieve rough dry skin.
Environmental causes of rough and dry skin can be remedied by moistening the air with a humidifier.
Environmental causes of rough and dry skin can be remedied by moistening the air with a humidifier.
Rough, dry skin may stem from environmental factors.
Rough, dry skin may stem from environmental factors.
Hot showers may exacerbate dry skin.
Hot showers may exacerbate dry skin.

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