Your complete online medical source

Navigate by theme:


Return to index

Skin Problems

Dry Skin

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Dry, itchy, flaky skin is the most common skin problem, especially in the winter. It develops when the skin loses water (not oil) to the air. Dry indoor air is a common cause, as is excessive bathing in hot water.


Top of Page

  • Avoid showers. They strip the skin's natural oil, which helps hold in moisture. Baths are much kinder to the skin than showers are.

  • Use bath oils in the tub.

  • Use mild soaps (such as Dove or Cetaphil), especially under the arms and in the genital area.

  • Use a moisturizing lotion after your bath.

Home Treatment

Top of Page

  • Follow the Prevention guidelines above.

  • For very dry hands, try this for a night: Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly and wear thin cotton gloves to bed. (Dry feet may benefit from similar treatment.)

  • Avoid scratching, which damages the skin. If itching is a problem, see "Relief From Itching" on See Relief From Itching.

When to Call a Health Professional

Top of Page

  • If you itch all over your body but there is no obvious cause or rash.

  • If itching is so bad that you cannot sleep, and Home Treatment is not helping.

  • If your skin is badly broken due to scratching.

    Relief From Itching

    • Keep the itchy area well lubricated. Be careful not to dry out the skin, because doing so will increase the itching.

    • An oatmeal bath may help relieve itching: Wrap 1 cup of oatmeal in a cotton cloth and boil as you would to cook it. Use this as a sponge and bathe in tepid water without soap. Or try an Aveeno colloidal oatmeal bath.

    • Calamine lotion is helpful for poison ivy or poison oak rashes.

    • Try a nonprescription 1 percent hydrocortisone cream for small itchy areas. Use very sparingly on the face or genitals. If itching is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger cream.

    • Try a nonprescription oral antihistamine (Chlor-Tripolon, Benadryl).

    • Cut nails short or wear gloves at night to prevent scratching.

    • Wear cotton clothing. Avoid wool and acrylic fabrics next to the skin.


Top of Page