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Dry skin is a common problem, especially in people with atopic dermatitis (eczema). It is rough, scaly skin that is dry to touch and less elastic than normal skin. Some people describe it as feeling like sandpaper. It is especially common in cold, dry climates.

What can causes dry skin?

The main feature is a lack of water or moisture in the skin surface. It also appears to be caused by a relative lack of natural oils. However, the main problem is insufficient water to moisturise the skin.

What are effects of dry skin?

It is not a serious medical problem. One of the worst irritating effects is itching. Cracking of the skin (particularly of the legs) can occur in older people, especially in winter. People often complain of a ‘crawling’ sensation in the skin. Dry skin does not cause wrinkles.

What can make the skin worse? 

• too much washing and bathing (too long and too often)

• use of very hot water

• use of traditional alkali soaps

• cold weather

• low humidity and artificial heating

• dry air

• overexposure to wind and cold

• poor die

What is a treatment?

Washing and bathing

It is important not to have frequent long baths or showers. Reduce the number and length of baths and showers. It is probably better to avoid baths, swimming in pools and bathing in spa baths. Concentrate on having short showers and perhaps at times have the so-called APC (armpit and crutch) scrub with soap and water instead of a shower or bath. Use tepid water instead of hot water.

Bath oils 

The addition of oils to baths helps to seal in moisture in the skin. However, you must be careful not to slip getting in and out of the tub, as bath oils make the tub surface slippery.


Avoid using the traditional alkali soaps and harsh soaps. Use soap substitutes such as Dove, Neutrogena or Cetaphil lotion. Less expensive soaps such as oatmeal soap, which are readily obtained from health shops, can also be used.

After shower 

After you shower, do not rub hard with a towel but pat dry and then rub a bath oil or mild baby oil into the skin.


Avoid wearing wool next to the skin. Do not wear heavy woollen clothing. Wear cotton clothing.


Apart from various mineral oils and Vaseline Intensive Care, preparations that soften, lubricate and soothe the skin include QV skin lotion, Alpha Keri lotion and Nutra-D cream. Although skin softeners act as moisturisers, the urea-based moisturisers can help make the skin more soft and supple. Examples are Nutraplus, Calmurid and Aquacare HP. Another suitable moisturising agent is QV cream. 


Eat a well-balanced diet. Drink ample water during the day.