Dry skin can be flaky, itchy, and painful. Learn our top tips to soothe irritation, hydrate your skin, and experience more good skin days.

right mark

Copied to Clipboard

wrong mark

Dry Skin: Causes, Treatment, And Prevention

03/15/20238 min read

If you struggle with dry skin, you know how uncomfortable it can be. From constant itching to unsightly red patches, dry skin disrupts your life.

At Bodewell, we want to help you live more freely from the limitations of skin conditions. In this article, we’ll discuss common causes of dry skin, ways to treat it, and preventive measures you can take to keep your skin hydrated.

Table Of Contents

What Is Dry Skin?

If you have dry skin, you’re not alone. The majority of people experience dry skin at some stage in their lives. The condition can be mild or severe, acute or chronic.

Xerosis, or dry skin, is a dermatological condition that occurs when your skin loses too much water and oil. This can cause it to become rough, scaly, and cracked. In severe cases, dry skin can also lead to itching, redness, and bleeding.

These irritated spots most commonly show up on faces, hands, and feet but can affect any area of your body.

There are four main types of dry skin:

Contact Dermatitis

If coming into contact with a product or item causes your skin to react, it’s contact dermatitis. The allergic reaction makes your skin red, dry, and itchy. Cosmetics, laundry detergents, even jewelry can cause this type of dry skin.


A chronic condition, if you have eczema, you’re likely to have it on and off throughout your life. It’s a condition that can be managed by identifying irritating factors that cause “flare-ups.” It results in red, itchy bumps that can crack.

Although there are theories as to what’s behind the condition, no one knows exactly what causes eczema.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

In simple terms, seborrheic dermatitis is dandruff for adults and cradle cap in infants. The dry, flaky skin is often on the head but can move to the face and chest, as well as creases in the arms and legs, and the groin. It’s triggered by yeast.

Athlete’s Foot

Although it’s a fungal condition, athlete's foot can look like dry skin because it causes flakiness on the soles of the feet.

Common Causes Of Dry Skin

Many things can cause your skin to become dry — where the skin’s natural barrier isn’t working due to an oil deficiency on the top layer. Some of the most common culprits include environmental factors, medications or products, and a variety of skin conditions.

Let’s look at these causes in more detail.

Environmental Factors

Woman in a red fur-lined coat in cold weather

It’s no secret that harsh weather is hard on your skin. During the winter months, humidity that provides moisture in the air decreases. And outdoor conditions, like frigid temperatures, wind, and rain, strip the skin of its natural oils.

If you’re outside in the winter, you'll likely notice your skin losing moisture and appearing rough, dry, and flaky.

Additionally, inside environmental conditions can also cause dry skin. For example, if your home is air-conditioned or heated with a wood stove, your skin can quickly lose moisture even though you’re indoors. Space heaters and fireplaces also dry out skin by decreasing humidity.

Medications And Products

Some medications may also cause or worsen dry skin. If you're taking medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, or arthritis, for example, you may experience dry skin as a side effect. It's important to talk to your doctor if you think your medication is causing your skin to become dry.

In addition, some everyday products can make your skin dry. Harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents all strip skin of its natural oils. Retinol and acne treatments are also known to dry out skin.

The good news is that, generally, if a certain medication or product is causing the dryness, when you stop using it, it should resolve.

Long Showers Or Baths

A woman relaxing in the bathtub

You might think soaking in water helps moisturize your skin, but that isn't the case. In fact, if you stay in a shower or bath too long, your skin can actually become dry because the water washes away its natural oils.

Skin Conditions

As we mentioned above, some skin conditions cause dryness. For instance, psoriasis, eczema, and ichthyosis can all make your skin dry and scaly.

For those with skin conditions such as eczema, factors like the weather can compound the problem. For example, the dry air in the winter months can dry out skin.

However, winter weather isn’t the only culprit; hot temperatures can also aggravate eczema. For some people with eczema, warm, sunny, and humid weather brings relief. Others find that the hot weather triggers eczema flare-ups instead.

Underlying Health Conditions

Dry skin is sometimes a symptom of other health problems. Conditions like diabetes, anorexia, HIV, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and some cancers can cause dry skin. Certain vitamin deficiencies can cause dryness as well.

If you frequently deal with dry skin and you aren’t sure why, it's worth talking to your doctor about potential underlying conditions.

Hormonal Changes

A woman holding her pregnant belly

Many women experience dry skin during pregnancy and menopause. The changing hormone levels during these times can impact your skin’s moisture levels.


If your skin is dry, you might not be drinking enough water. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate water intake for men is about 3.7 liters, while it’s 2.7 liters for women.

(But it’s important to note that vigorous exercise can increase your daily water needs above those recommendations.)

If you're not drinking enough water or getting water through your food, you can become dehydrated as your body pulls moisture from your skin to use in other areas. This can then cause dryness.


Too much handwashing or too many squirts of hand sanitizer can result in dry skin, especially if you don’t moisturize after. This can particularly affect people whose job requires frequent handwashing, like nurses, doctors, farmers, and hair stylists.


After 40 years old, you are more prone to getting dry skin because your skin makes less oil as you age.


Smokers are more likely to have dry skin as nicotine pulls the moisture out of skin.


Another potential cause of dry skin is very close to home. Genetics can make you more susceptible to the condition.

Certain mutations of the gene that controls the production of filaggrin, a protein that’s job is to keep the skin barrier hydrated, can make you more predisposed to dry skin. And these mutations can run in families.

Swimming Pools

As fun as it is to spend the day in the pool, chlorine can be drying to the skin.

Complications Of Dry Skin

Although dry skin is usually easy enough to combat with some good self-care, there can be consequences if it’s left untreated. For example, if dry skin cracks, bacteria or viruses can get into the body, leading to infections.

In addition, if the irritated skin isn’t treated but is itched and scratched, this can result in thickened patches of skin, discoloration, and continued itchiness.

How To Diagnose Dry Skin

While you may be certain you have dry skin, there are several things you can do to find out what kind of dry skin you’re suffering from.

First, you can take an allergy test to rule out contact dermatitis. Is it soap? Detergent? Jewelry?

In order to confirm if it’s eczema causing your skin to be dry, you can get a skin biopsy from your doctor. Blood tests are also helpful if you suspect a more serious cause, such as kidney disease.

A specific diagnosis can help you understand the best ways to treat your condition.

How To Treat Dry Skin

Once you know what is causing your dry skin, there are things you can do to find relief. Home remedies, specific moisturizing and calming ingredients, lifestyle adjustments, and proven products are all great options for reducing your symptoms.

Home Remedies

Most cases of dry skin can safely be treated at home. Here are some simple home remedies you can try.

1) Take An Oatmeal Bath

The ingredients in preparing an oatmeal bath

Looking for a simple and relaxing way to soothe dry skin? Grind up some oatmeal and add it to your bathwater. Just don’t use water that is too hot, and keep your soak short so you don't cause more dryness and irritation.

Additionally, after the bath, it’s best to pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it.

2) Run A Humidifier

If the air in your home is drying out your skin, consider investing in a humidifier. By regularly running a humidifier, you can add moisture into the air and help prevent dry skin. Be sure to set the humidifier to a humidity level at or under 50 percent.

3) Drink More Water

Staying hydrated is key to keeping your skin healthy. If you're not getting enough water, your skin won’t be able to replenish itself and retain its natural elasticity and moisture.

Plus, water is beneficial for your overall health.

4) Try Dry Brushing

A woman dry brushing her legs

Dry brushing is a technique that can keep your skin looking radiant if done regularly. Simply rub a small, stiff-bristled brush lengthwise on your skin. This will help improve circulation, remove flaky skin, and help keep your skin looking healthy. Just be gentle!

5) Wash Hands With Lukewarm Water

It’s best to use lukewarm water to wash your hands and steer clear of alcohol-based soaps. Moisturizing after washing your hands can also help alleviate dry skin.


Speaking of moisturizing, in order to rehydrate the top layer of the skin and seal in the moisture, you need a good moisturizer. Moisturizers have three main ingredients that work together to keep your skin hydrated:

  • Humectants, such as ceramides, glycerin, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, and lecithin, attract moisture.
  • Emollients, such as linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids, fill the spaces between cells.
  • Occlusives, such as petroleum jelly, silicone, lanolin, and mineral oil, keep moisture in the skin by creating a hydrophobic layer.

Look for products that combine each of these types of ingredients to get the best effect. A thick, oil-based cream is better than a water-based lotion because it will provide better hydration.

Find opportunities to use your moisturizer several times a day. For example, you may want to moisturize first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening.

Also, be sure to moisturize when you get out of the shower or right after you wash your face to help the product absorb better into your damp skin.

If your hands are dry, carry around a small pocket-sized moisturizer and, as we mentioned earlier, use it each time you wash your hands.

Helpful Ingredients For Dry Skin

In addition to the remedies listed above, certain ingredients can help prevent and improve dry skin. Try one of the following ingredients for natural soothing.

1) Colloidal Oatmeal

Oats aren't just for breakfast. If you make a colloid from oats and water, you can use it to trap moisture in your skin. Colloidal oatmeal is a very effective emollient, which is why we use this ingredient regularly.

2) Coconut Oil

Blue picnic table with a halved coconut and a bowl of coconut oil

Many health and beauty products contain coconut oil because it moisturizes well by melting on body temperature and absorbing into your skin. To soothe irritated skin, apply a small amount of coconut oil directly to your dry patches.

3) Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has been used for centuries to soothe and heal a variety of skin conditions. And if you keep an aloe vera plant in your home, you can quickly harvest the sap from its leaves when you need some.

4) Jojoba Oil

With anti-inflammatory and healing properties, jojoba oil can help relieve itchy, flaky dry skin and can balance natural oil production.

5) Shea Butter

Rich in vitamins A, B, and E, shea butter can help revive dry skin and relieve itchiness as well. It’s got a high fatty acid content that can restore lipids without making skin oily.

6) Niacinamide

Derived from niacin, niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that improves the skin’s moisture barrier function, helping keep skin hydrated. You can take it orally or find it in a topical cream or serum.

7) Almond Oil

Almond oil is a natural moisturizer that hydrates skin, locking in moisture with the fatty acids of the nut. Of course, if you have a nut allergy, it’s best to avoid this ingredient.

Heal With Botanicals

Nature has a host of ingredients fresh for the picking that will help soothe irritated skin — from anti-inflammatory coltsfoot to antiestrogenic watercress to flavonoid-rich yarrow.

Our products contain moisturizing ingredients with a blend of 22 different botanical ingredients to help soothe the skin.

Hydrating Products To Try

If the idea of grinding your own oatmeal doesn't sound like fun to you, don't worry. There are plenty of effective products you can use to hydrate your skin.

Our Daily Eczema Calming Cream, for example, can work wonders on dry skin caused by eczema. Between the colloidal oatmeal and a proprietary blend of botanical ingredients, your skin will feel pampered and soothed with every application.

If you’re experiencing dry skin on your scalp, our Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo is specifically formulated with almond oil and pyrithione zinc to combat dandruff and reduce flaking.

How To Prevent Dry Skin

Using the right products and ingredients can help improve your skin once it's dry. But you don't have to wait until your knuckles are cracked to start taking action. Proactively taking care of your skin can keep it from drying out in the first place.

Here are some easy tips to help you care for your skin every day.

1) Drink Plenty of Water

Water being poured into a glass

Staying hydrated can improve your skin and help your body run more smoothly. As a rule of thumb, try to drink at least eight glasses of water each day. In addition, it’s best to avoid foods and drinks that dehydrate you, including alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and salt.

2) Avoid Ingredients That Aggravate Your Skin

Some people have sensitive skin. If that's you, you'll want to avoid skincare products that contain fragrances, alcohol, and other harsh ingredients as these can wreak havoc on your skin.

It’s best to choose fragrance-free products to avoid irritating or drying out your skin. Note that botanical oils, like lavender, can still be used even if a product is “fragrance-free.”

3) Take Short, Warm Showers

We talked about this in the oatmeal bath section, but hot water can strip your skin of its natural oils. Try to keep your showers lukewarm in temperature and short (no longer than 5 to 10 minutes). You might even cut down daily showers to every other day until your skin gets better.

4) Apply Moisturizer Often

Woman applying lotion to dry skin on her legs

We talked a lot about moisturizer earlier, but we’ll reiterate: Apply moisturizer regularly to help prevent dry skin. For best results, use your favorite moisturizer after you shower, first thing in the morning, and before bed.

5) Make Lifestyle Changes

If the environment you live in is dry, there's not much you can do about it. But there are some things you can do to care for your skin on a daily basis.

  • Wear gloves. ASince fingers and hands are prone to dry skin, it's important to protect them from the cold and wind.
  • Stay back from the woodstove. Sitting in front of your stove watching the flames is so relaxing, but it can dry out your skin. To protect yourself, stay back or use an alternate heat source.

6) Manage Stress

Conditions like eczema can be exacerbated by stress, so it’s best to manage these types of emotions with a technique that works for you, like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation.

7) Stay Smart In The Sun

Whenever we talk about skin, it’s impossible to not address the detrimental effects of the sun.

Remember to use sunscreen daily to combat potential dehydration when you’re out and about. You want to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum 30 SPF, even when it’s cloudy.

In addition to sunscreen, you want to think about your wardrobe (and accessories) as well. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and protective long-sleeve clothing when possible. And try to avoid being out during peak hours.


8) Eat Your Water

Remember when we talked about recommended daily water intake? That number included the water you drink and eat. Maximize the water you take in by choosing foods high in water content, like cucumbers and watermelons.

When To See A Doctor

If you've tried several products or implemented the above lifestyle changes and your skin isn't improving, consider talking to your doctor. Since they know your individual health history, they can help you pinpoint the right treatment.

Keeping Your Skin Hydrated

Woman applying lotion to dry skin

Dry skin can be a real pain, both literally and figuratively. But if you find yourself battling scaly patches or irritation, thankfully, there are many things you can try to soothe and heal your skin.

From home remedies to store-bought products to lifestyle changes, there are plenty of ways to show some love to your skin. So, don't let dry skin get you down. Instead, add Daily Calming Cream into your routine, and follow the tips and tricks outlined in this article.

You'll be amazed at how much of a difference the right products and practices can make!


American Academy of Dermatology Association
Mayo Clinic
Medline Plus
National Academies
National Institutes of Health

Shop Bodewell