Cracked skin can be caused by a number of different factors including dehydration, certain medical conditions, and prolonged exposure to very cold weather. It can also be brought on by dry air or frequent washing, which robs the skin of protective oils. In addition, there are many household products that are harsh and can cause cracked skin when used too frequently.
One of the medical conditions that is a common cause of dry, cracked skin is diabetes. This happens mainly in the hands and feet, and occurs because the nerves do not receive messages from the brain to keep these areas hydrated. Once these areas become cracked, infection often sets in and becomes a serious problem.
Hypothyroidism may also result in very dry skin. It makes the body manufacture too little thyroid hormone, which in turn lessens the oil in the skin, causing it to dry out and crack. Malnutrition may lead to cracked skin as well; a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals can cause the excessive dryness that leads to cracking.
Skin rashes, such as psoriasis and eczema, can also cause this condition. Rashes such as these cause the skin to thicken and dry, which results in cracks. Calluses can also crack and can be difficult to treat.
In cold weather, heating systems remove all of the humidity from indoor air, resulting in dehydration. The result is itchy, dry skin that can crack, although a good moisturizer can help to prevent this. A home humidifier usually relieves this type of cracked skin because it constantly pumps moisture into the air. The dry, cold winter air can also be damaging to the skin. When not properly protected, painful frostbite can occur which may result in cracked skin in more severe cases.
Gardeners, mechanics, and others who consistently get their hands dirty are prone to cracked skin. It takes persistent scrubbing with hot water and soap to get their hands clean. As a result, their hands become red, dry, and cracked. Many of the soaps and cleaning products on the market are harsh and drying, and those that produce the most lather strip often oil from the skin.
It may be relaxing to soak in a tub full of hot water, or to take a long, hot shower, but both can really dry out the skin. Quick showers and warm baths are better, and conserve water and energy as well. To help heal cracked skin, moisturizer should be applied immediately after a bath or shower while the skin is still slightly damp.