Cracked dry skin is a common condition that can be unsightly or even painful. It is caused by the loss of the skin’s natural moisture. Sensitive skin sometimes develops cracked dry skin as a result of irritants. Dealing with this condition involves avoiding skin irritants, using products to help the skin retain moisture, and healing the cracked skin. Unless there are other medical conditions to consider, dry and cracked skin can be treated at home with over-the-counter creams and lotions.
Although cracked dry skin may be a sign of a serious disease or condition, it is usually the result of external elements or a genetic predisposition. Normal, healthy skin has a protective layer of oil, or lipids, that help the skin retain moisture. Dry air, harsh soaps, or overexposure to water can weaken the protective layer and allow the skin to become dry. Skin cracks occur as the dry skin loses its elasticity. Feet and hands are especially vulnerable to this condition.
The first line of treatment for cracked dry skin is to apply a moisturizer that does not contain fragrances or alcohol. Moisturizers are formulated to act as a replacement for the body’s natural layer of oil. Moisturizing creams and lotions are most effective when they are applied to damp rather than dry skin. Products with urea or alpha-hydroxy acids have mildly inflammatory properties that increase the moisture content of the skin. Petrolatum, applied before bedtime and covered with dressings, socks, or gloves, works well to hold the moisture in.
Cracked skin provides a way for bacteria to access deeper tissues. Tenderness or soreness of cracked skin may signal an infection. To treat minor infections, antibiotic cream can be applied directly to the fissures and covered with dressings. Cyanoacrylate glue, also known as “instant” glue, can be used to seal skin cracks and prevent them from becoming worse. The glue is applied directly to the crack and allowed to dry.
There are several ways to prevent or lessen cracked dry skin. A humidifier will add moisture to the air in dry climates. Short, lukewarm showers rather than long, hot baths help protect the skin’s natural oils, and superfatted soaps can even add oil to the skin. The use of loofahs, hard brushes, or rough washcloths, however, should be avoided. Additionally, skin can be protected with clothes when outside, and gloves and scarves should be worn in cold climates.