Xeroderma literally means dry skin (Greek-xeros meaning dry and the Greek-derma meaning skin = dry skin.) Xeroderma is a very common condition. While dry skin tends to affect males and females equally, older individuals are typically much more prone to dry skin. The skin in elderly individuals tends to have diminishing amounts of natural skin oils and lubricants.
Dry skin may be a mild, temporary condition lasting a few days to weeks. Dry skin may also become a more severe, long-term skin problem for some. Xeroderma occurs most commonly on the lower legs, arms, the sides of the abdomen and thighs. Symptoms most associated with Xeroderma are discomfort form skin tightness, scaling (the visible peeling of the outer skin layer), itching and cracks in the skin. It is a condition involving the integumentary system, which in most cases can safely be treated with emollients and/or moisturizers.
Xeroderma happens more often in the winter where the cold air outside and the hot air inside creates a low relative humidity. This causes the skin to lose moisture and it may crack and peel. Bathing or hand washing too frequently, especially if one is using harsh soaps may also contribute to xeroderma. Xeroderma can also be caused by a deficiency of vitamin A, vitamin D, systemic illness, severe sunburn or some medication.
Dry skin can usually be addressed by the use of over-the-counter (OTC) topical preparations. If these products do not relieve the condition, see an aesthetician or dermatologist for more specific remedies.
A common complication of dry skin and itching is secondary bacterial infection. Infections may be mild and resolve spontaneously or may be more severe and necessitate antibiotic treatment. Severe itching leads to repeat scratching of lesions, hence the "itch-scratch-rash-itch" cycle. Because of the persistence of this itch-scratch cycle, the skin may become much thickened in these areas from rubbing. Repeat skin rubbing in the same area may lead to two localized chronic skin conditions called lichen simplex chronicus (LSC) and prurigo nodule.