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Dry Skin: What Can Cause This? - Dr. Heck

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Dr. Heck recalls the causes associated with dry skin, shares the long-term risk factors when dry skin is not moisturized, and describes the treatments for dry skin.

Dr. Heck:
Dry skin affects many individuals. It is influenced by how often you take a shower or bath, the temperature of the water, the hotter the water the drier the skin becomes, and where you live. If you live in a humid environment your skin stays better moisturized than if you live in say an arid desert environment.

As a dermatologist we do diagnose dry skin on clinical examination by visual inspection. Risk factors for dry skin if left untreated include dermatitis. So the skin barrier can actually break down forming microscopic fissures. Those fissures become red, itchy, irritated, and then they require a treatment by a dermatologist with something like a topical steroid.

Dry skin can be treated in many different ways by proper selection of soaps or non-soap cleansers in the bath or shower. We tend to recommend no-soap cleansers such as Cetaphil® or CeraVe™. Also soaps cut with moisturizers like Dove for sensitive skin or Oil of Olay.

Dry skin can also be treated by minimizing water exposure. So the more you expose your skin to water the drier it becomes. It’s kind of counter intuitive. You want to moisturize liberally after the bath or shower and keep the baths or showers to ten minutes or less.

Moisturizers should be a nice, thick cream. Lotions are frequently chosen and they spread slightly easier than creams, but creams are better at locking moisture in the skin. So something nice and thick that comes out of a tub or a tube, something like Cetaphil® cream or CeraVe™ cream, Vanicream is also a good option.

Oil is not as effective as you may think for moisturizing the skin. A huge study was done comparing mineral oil to Vaseline and looking at how well those two products can lock moisture in the skin. The Vaseline was 75 times better at locking moisture in the skin. So people don’t frequently choose Vaseline®, but you can kind of extrapolate and go beyond that data to a cream being better than an oil.

About Dr. Shannon Heck, M.D.:
Shannon Heck, M.D., F.A.A.D., is a board certified dermatologist and a partner in a large, thriving dermatologic practice in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. She specializes in general and cosmetic dermatology.