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What is dry skin?

Dry skin is common. The person with dry skin often does not realize that he or she suffers from dry skin. Especially in the cold winter months, our skin threatens to dry out. When the skin dries out too much, eczema and sometimes a skin infection can develop. That is why it is good to recognize and treat dry skin in time.

How does dry skin develop?

In a normal situation, there is a balance in the water balance of the skin with the environment. The skin barrier consists mainly of fats. If these fats decrease, the skin threatens to lose water, resulting in dry skin. The main causes of skin dehydration are:

Water, soap, and other cleaning agents. Water and soap cleanse the skin, but at the same time, the skin fats are literally washed away. As a result, the skin loses its barrier and with it a lot of water. So it's a notorious fallacy that many people make: washing the skin with soap and water may make the skin clean, but it actually dries out rather than moistens. People with itchiness and dryness of their hands tend to put them under cold running water for minutes because it calms the itching. Unfortunately, this only has a temporary effect; after the hands are dried, they become even drier than before washing, and the itching returns just as hard. People who work a lot with water, soap, and cleaning agents in daily life also have an increased risk of dry skin, especially on the hands. There is a high risk of skin dehydration in some professions. For example, because the hands have to be washed a lot for professional reasons or because of direct contact with substances that can dissolve the skin fats. Well-known examples are nurses, doctors, cleaners, cooks, mechanics, catering employees, etc.

There is also an increased risk of dehydration of the skin in the winter season. Rooms with central heating in the living and working environment ensure a dry atmosphere. The cold winter months also bring cold dry air.

Some skin diseases are associated with dry skin. Patients with atopic eczema are known. They already have a predisposition of a skin type with a disturbance in the water balance, which makes the skin dry out more easily. Due to the additional itching and scratching, the skin is easily broken. Another example is patients with the so-called "fish scale skin" or ichthyosis; these patients have abnormal epidermis production, resulting in excessive scaling and loss of water.

Unfortunately, dry skin is also an ailment that is commonly seen in older people, especially on the lower legs and forearms. Aging skin is known to lose its ability to retain water. The cause lies in a decline in the barrier function of the epidermis. The dermis also shows changes including loss of elasticity and stiffening of the connective tissue. This “damage” in the epidermis and dermis is also explained by the fact that older skin has been exposed to harmful environmental factors for a relatively long period of time (especially the action of toxic substances and sun rays).

What does dry skin look like?
Depending on the severity of the dehydration and of inflammatory reaction, the following symptoms can be seen: In mild dehydration, some flaking and redness. Sometimes the skin is so dehydrated that you see cracks (= crackle aspect, just like an old painting). Moreover, painful fissures can easily occur. People with hypersensitive skin can also see mint-sized red-flaky spots on the trunk and limbs. This is called “nummular eczema”. This condition is also associated with excessive use of water and soaps.

What is a possible complication of dry skin?
A possible complication of dry cracked skin is a bacterial infection, which is characterized by a sudden worsening of eczema with pus and crusting.

How is dry skin diagnosed?
By looking at and feeling the skin, the diagnosis is immediately made by your doctor. No additional investigations are normally required. A number of skin diseases such as atopic eczema and ichthyosis can also cause dry skin. When in doubt, a skin biopsy is taken to rule out an underlying skin disease.

What is the treatment for dry skin?
When dehydrated, the skin itself starts to produce extra skin fats to replace the washed away from skin fats and thus repair the skin barrier. This recovery takes about 1 week, provided the skin is left alone and given time to recover. By rubbing the surface of the skin with a protective ointment or greasy cream, the skin does indeed get the chance to fully recover.