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Dry, flaky skin

Your skin may be flaky because it is too dry. This is a particular problem as we get older (MIMS Dermatology 2007;3(4):40–2). Skin produces its own grease to moisturize the skin, but as we get older less grease is produced. Add to this the effects of soaps, hot water and central heating, and your skin can become dry, rough, itchy and scaly. Our legs have the fewest grease glands and so are particularly affected, producing a ‘crazy-paving’ appearance. The problem is most common in the winter (‘winter itch’), because of indoor heating.

There are some commonsense ways of improving dry skin.

  • Ask your pharmacist about ‘emollients’. These are moisturizers that replace water lost from the skin (although this is only slightly possible) and prevent further loss of moisture. There are many types – creams, lotions, ointments, bath oils and shower gels – so you should be able to find one that suits you.
  • You do not have to bathe every day to be clean. Bathing strips natural protective grease from your skin. If you think your skin is dry, bath or shower only twice a week – you can easily wash the smelly parts of your body separately. Use warm, not hot, water.
  • Avoid perfumed or drying soap. Choose an unperfumed ‘cream bar’ type or use aqueous cream (from pharmacies) instead of soap.
  • Do not put any disinfectant in the bath or, worse, directly onto your skin. This can start a dermatitis reaction and make the problem even worse. An unperfumed emollient bath oil is a good idea, because it will help to prevent dry skin. You can buy suitable oils from pharmacies – ask the pharmacist for advice. But remember that bath oils can make the bath or shower very slippery!
  • Do not scrub your skin.
  • Take warm, not hot, baths or showers.
  • Moisturize your skin after bathing, when the skin is still slightly damp, as this seals in the moisture. So after washing, towel-dry your skin gently, then apply an emollient.

Eczema / dermatitis

Eczema and dermatitis are two names for the same thing. If you have eczema your skin will be dry, flaky, red and itchy. It will also be sensitive to irritant substances such as some soaps and chemicals. Areas of eczema can become infected by bacteria, in which case they become weeping and crusted. The itching is particularly annoying, and can be enough to disturb your sleep. It almost always starts in childhood, and often gets better in teenagers. In adults, the armpits, backs of knees, neck, face and upper chest are the commonest sites. Sometimes eczema is a reaction to an irritant substance, such as a cosmetic or a chemical or even a plant; hairdressers are particularly at risk of eczema on their hands. Even if you have grown out of your eczema, your skin will remain sensitive.

If you think you might have eczema talk to your doctor, as many treatments are available. Emollients are particularly important, so look at the above advice for dry skin. In eczema, there is a deficiency of the protective fatty substances that we all have in our skin, which waterproofs it. Emollients help to put this right. In general, the more oily the emollient, the more effective it will be, but of course a very greasy emollient might be too messy so you need to find a compromise. Eczema can flare up from time to time, and when this happens your doctor will probably prescribe a steroid cream and will explain how to use it. Other treatments are available for more severe eczema.

It is important to minimize scratching, as this can lead to infection. Look at our section on itching.

Scabies

If your skin is very itchy as well as flaky, and this has happened recently, you might have picked up scabies. Scabies is an infection caused by a tiny mite that lives on the skin. For more information, look at our page on itching: questions to ask yourself

Flaky scalp

If you are finding visible flakes of skin shed from your scalp, look at our section on dandruff.

 

 

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, March 18th 2011

 


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Comments on this article

Posted by ladygray06 on 23/09/2014 at 12:31

At age 60 I started itching on my stretch marks. These were on my. stomach, upper thighs, sides of hips, breasts and some on hips. I couldn't see a rash until I scratched the stretch marks. Oh my gosh, after I scratched them I broke out in open weeping sores that itched unmercilessly! I've taken antihistamines and use cortisone creams. Help! Don't know whats wrong!

Posted by Optional on 02/09/2014 at 08:28

I didnt know that bathing hot water striped my skin of moisture but now i know and i also use coconut oil to moisturise my skin which has really helped.

Posted by VolleyballQueen on 23/08/2014 at 08:58

I'm a 14 girl and I have this kinda dry flakey red skin around my mouthed and it goes away for a day or two then come right back. I have no idea what it is and what to do I asked my doctor and she said it was eczema. But I don think it is.. Any help

Posted by Optional on 18/08/2014 at 10:01

I have a problem dealing with legs been scar. since i have been shaving I started to scratch more often, now my legs is left with scarring from scratching I did took it to my doc, he gave me a cream i can't remember what it's called but since than i haven't gone back. now it's worse been scratch non stop. I really need help from anyone that had the same problem.

Posted by deez on 20/07/2014 at 07:06

im 19 and im suffering from dry skin.My palms are so rough.i think it is hereditary , ma cousons too suffer because of this. Is there any way to cure this.i have flaky dry skin (scales). itz really embarrasing.

Posted by abdul on 18/07/2014 at 09:12

This is nice and help full,but my case is different!I am light naturally but when clock twenty years my skin start getting problems I have try different kind of creams but still I can not get positive result sometimes is even worst.the effect areas are( legs,hand,kneels,elbows!!!help me please what can I do to restore my skin back?

Posted by Asish on 15/07/2014 at 06:20

Hello sir,,,,, My skin is very dry...during winter days the skin condition is more worse.The whole body used to get crack and I have to bath for long time to remove this dry skin. I had contact various specialist but they say that its a generation problem and cannot cured. Please suggest specially my dorsum (back)and gluteal and also femoral crack even during summer days also.

Posted by BobbieB on 11/07/2014 at 09:14

I have recently developed large patches of dry skin on my face. All the articles I have read online refer to 'itchy' dry skin. My skin it not itchy. For the past few weeks I have been using Bio Oil morning and night. I thought it was looking better but now it has increased again. I have hypothyroidism and have taken meds for this for a number of years. Probably nothing to do with this skin problem. Any ideas, please!

Posted by Optional on 17/06/2014 at 04:25

i have some spots all huddled together not really itchy just now and then and not red round the area just little spots however the other day it got a bit itch and when i itched it some spots went flaky ??

Posted by Optional on 12/05/2014 at 03:18

can you get ecema from using product with retinol in it?

Posted by aman on 20/01/2014 at 10:43

iam asian birth havin brown skin complexion, my face skin is incredulosly dry since i was a teen aged boy, i tried too many emollient cream but couldn't help me out, it gets tight ,scally, n flaky, i even visited dr. Bt it wasnt fruitful, it worsens in winter, and in the sunlight skin gets broken -

Posted by Opt on 01/10/2013 at 08:26

My husband has da same problem itching his body especially his back and stomach.the scratching leavs spots on his body pls hlp

Posted by hazel on 28/08/2013 at 08:15

please help me i have dry scaly skin on my legs and arms i feel embarassed to wear shorts,what is the natural remedy of this?

Posted by Kunal on 17/03/2013 at 06:57

I am having falkes on my complete hands and complete legs. But it's not ichy or getting the redness. And another problem is tht i am suffering from a severe pain in my scalp. But when i go for hours of playing ant sport or any physical activity and my scalp get's totaly swetted then the pain is gane and my head is feels relaxed and good. Please let me know the cure for the same. I am very depressed due to this.

Posted by MarĂ­a on 13/01/2013 at 07:33

I have ezcema and I got this little bump in my leg it looks like grease I got it a year ago what can it be

Posted by Optional on 18/10/2012 at 04:57

My head is really itchy and I have really bad dandruff and I don't know what else to do I check my hair for lice and I don't have it.. Wish I knew what else to use in my head to stop the itchy and dandruff

Posted by Optionalpatricia thompson on 24/05/2012 at 10:12

i have psoriosis on my feet head elbows hands can you help me as i am so fed up with it what can i do to help myself .

Posted by Optional on 01/04/2012 at 02:21

I have small tiny bumps all over my body...it started from my stomach and arms then legs....I was working with fiberglass panels oneday and the following day my body was itchy and started breaking out...it spread rapidly...

Posted by Am I alone?? on 23/03/2012 at 12:42

I have big red itchy flakes in my scalp its not dandruff, my docter can't think of anything else.

Posted by Optional on 09/02/2012 at 02:12

I NEED HELP! 3 years of severe dandruff ! Anyone please help me..it's so embarrassing

Posted by Joks on 26/11/2011 at 02:44

I have had dry and flacky skin for 3yrs now and i'm always wearing long trousers and t-shirts because i feel embarassed i have dark marks on my skin because i always scrub ma skin, people think that i don't bath:-C

Posted by Concerned on 21/10/2011 at 02:34

I've had this for the past two years. Winter or Summer, it doesn't matter. It started between my eyes and now it's spread to my eyebrows, around the corners of my nose, and on the bridge. It's not itchy and is barely noticeable unless you're looking for it but it's there. I have to use head and shoulders because, as a male, I have longer hair and usually always have long hair. I shaved my head to try and give my scalp breathing room and that was successful but I can't stand short hair. Either way, I found this information useful and I'll be sure to go to a walk-in clinic and ask. Thanks.

Posted by Vita on 12/06/2011 at 02:03

first, thank you for the information about dandruff and eczema! I also have eczema in some part of my body.one of them is kind of dandruff round the nose.actually, it's not itchy but related to my appearance, it's so embarrassing. I notice that my dandruff often appear one or two days before my period time come. is the raising of dandruff really related to that? or just my own placebo effect?

Posted by Anonymous on 12/02/2011 at 04:11

Thx.. This really really helped me a lot!=D I'd like to thank the owner of this site, anyways bye.

Posted by Optional on 04/12/2010 at 09:06

i am 16 but my hand skin is like old people

Posted by Blue on 30/11/2010 at 05:34

I have eczema on my body but I get really bad dry skin on my face especially in-between my eyes/eyebrows. I have used all sorts of creams but nothing seams to work except steroid ointment but I don't want to keep using that cos of the side-affects. What can I do to make it go or seem less sore?

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