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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.


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 Optional on 05/09/2017 at 08:12

Taking a shower or having a bath, isn't possible as the skin on my back is too dry. Applying anything to my back isn't possible physically as my arms aren't long enough and I wouldn't be able to see what I am doing.

Posted by Nuria Vega on 30/03/2017 at 03:45

Recently I bought foderma serum for my baby, who would get red, rough patches on her left cheek and right underarm. After one application before bed time, her redness and dryness improved drastically so I applied it a few more times and all symptoms were gone! Then, the patches came back when the weather got very cold, so I now apply it twice a day in those areas and the redness/drynes is gone and hasn't come back. She did not like me applying serum on her, but the improvement to her skin was well worth it and now she is used to it. Highly recommend foderma serum but you have to use it consistently at least 2/day for best results.

Posted by Optional on 07/02/2017 at 09:18

I'm 23 years old, really struggling with my skin on my neck and face to the point of where I don't want to be seen in public. It regularly goes bright red, dry and flaky and this stays day and night, my face always feels so hot its unreal... I can sometimes get a couple of days looking normal, but then this quick turns back into a flare up. I have been on countless trips to the doctors and they just can't seem to help past prescribing me topical steroids. It doesn't help that I have sensitive skin due to having eczema from childhood (The rest of body is now clear) and that I am allergic to penicillin.. Starting to really get me down recently as I am not sure what else to try - any advise guys? probably be good just find someone who has been through something similar!

Posted by Optional on 24/07/2016 at 03:47

I get very itchy flakes all over my face and scalp that ooze a liquid when the flakes fall off, that turns into a yellowish crystal about as hard as plastic. What is wrong with my skin?

Posted by Optional on 10/04/2016 at 03:53

I have really dry, flaky skin in patches on my face.... and none of the moisturisers that I have used work, but I started drinking more water and its cleared up a lot, so try to keep yourself hydrated?

Posted by bernadette37 on 02/01/2016 at 06:01

i have dry flaky skin onboth of my inside legs not far down from my private parts have noticed more patches recently sometimes itchy but not always they are large and smaller 1s now have a small patch on my left arm and just under my left breast they have just appeared so not sure what it is anyone have any ideas what it could be

Posted by Cameronp on 22/09/2015 at 04:41

I have a patch on my right.arm only its very strange its like my skin is falling off literally

Posted by Anonymous on 16/07/2015 at 07:32

I'm a 16 year old female and I have really dry and flaky skin on my stomach and on my back. I went to the doctor and she said it was from not letting air in and my sweat it building up? I don't believe that, I think it's something else. Has someone else had the same problem as me? And it's embarrassing, wearing a bathing suit and having to hide your stomach from the flakyness..

Posted by Optional on 06/07/2015 at 09:18

Hi, now im 16 years old. I have a problem with my skin. It will become dry every time my period is about to come. It not just happend in my skin face and all around the body. I try not to eat chicken and sea food as i have allergic with that , however it still make skin dry, itchy, red .. any advice for me??

Posted by Optional on 04/07/2015 at 11:30

I'm 16 female and have had really itchy breasts for a while now. I thought it was just a phase so I didn't see a doctor but it's getting worse now. Mainly around my nipple area it is the worst.a sort of brownish pink patches have formed around the nipple.Sometimes I get flaky skin and when I itch (even though I try not to) it weeps a sort of clear/white substance. I've tried foban cream which has worked very well or my eczema on my legs but it seems to be not working on my breasts. I really don't want to see a doctor about this but I guess I will have to soon because it is getting worse. HeeLPPPLL

Posted by marshal on 23/05/2015 at 10:39

hello there! please I have been having this issue for some time now and have been reluctant to visit a doc due to the nature of where am from. but anyways, I have this dryness on the edges of my penis and recently I noticed white patches around my pubic hair area after shaving. would really like to know what it could be and how to fix it...thnks in advance

Posted by Optional on 13/04/2015 at 05:50

Im 16 years old and i have dry flaky skin all over my armpits and chest and down to my belly button and on my shoulders and is always itching ive had this problem for about 5 months and is getting worse.I take warm showers and it doesn't help and i havent talked to my docter yet which i am thinking about doing next appointment i dont want whatever this is anymore its really really embarrassing:(.

Posted by Ricky on 13/04/2015 at 04:06

I have had this skin lesion on the back of my neck near my spine that has not healed up almost a year! It is scaly and white skin can be scraped off, but it returns next day! I have placed scraped skin in toilet bowl and it swims around! What is it you think?

Posted by Optional on 10/04/2015 at 10:14

For the last month and a half, I have noticed small slightly red flaky areas in my back, under my breast and in other intimate areas, I was wondering if there was anything that could cause this as they are not itchy most of the time, when they do get itchy I cannot stop but other than that I have had no other reactions as such to them. Please help.

Posted by Katherine C. Whatley on 09/04/2015 at 01:47

Dry, flaky skin is truly embarrassing. I suffered this type of skin disorder particularly on my upper eyelid. That was 10 years ago. Wayback in high school. At first, that was just an ordinary itchy skin until it became red and flaked. I always get embarrassed because my classmates used to bully me everyday saying I have a rheum in my eyes. I know what they're talking about so I have to go to the CR and fix myself. I still remember that I cried and shared this to my mom. She felt so worried so she bought me a moisturizing skin care product and hydration supplement like Phytoceramides. Read the review here She also added that I have to drink more water each day. I followed what she said and happily see improvements on my skin. I continue using this product to stay look young and healthy.

Posted by Optional on 23/03/2015 at 05:32

What does it mean if they are itchy and get a sore on it that heels only for.the scab to come of when your in the bath

Posted by Optional on 25/01/2015 at 09:26

My skin on .my face is dry,flaky,itching,red,it's embarrassing you can see the skin around my eyes,and eyelids please help.

Posted by Shatora on 21/01/2015 at 08:11

My face is so dry and flaky and I only got this once when I was pregnant

Posted by Optional on 05/01/2015 at 08:56

During dry season I do have a itchy buttocks and a sharp pain leading to wounds on my laps as well as coughing,sneezing,runny nose and heavy breath like a pain in the chest

Posted by CookieMonster on 31/12/2014 at 02:59

Does humidifier helps dry flaky skin? My skin is flaky on the face especially on the cheeks, eyelids, neck and forehead. I researched alot about Dry Flaky skin and they mostly recommended using humidifier.

Posted by Stephanie on 18/12/2014 at 03:29

What you're possibly dealing with is perioral dermatitis. Which is caused by oral contraceptives. You may be experiencing other symptoms by taking the birth control pill such as cuts on the side of the mouth (known as thrush or oral yeast infection), chronic head pains or headaches (known as hormone headaches) between the eyes. Constant nausea or the feeling of throwing up, dizziness, acne (especially changes in skin you've never seen before that may look like an under the skin infection). Armpits that smell and can't be controlled by deodorant. Rashes on face or body. Hot flashes. If you feel like you have an incurable infection with no fever check the side effects of your birth control you may be having an allergic reaction! Severe symptoms include feeling weak, fatigued, low energy. Was wrongly diagnosed as having sinusitis, adult acne, yeast infections, dermatitis, eczema, and being a "picker." They said birth control was helping my acne when in fact it's the most common side effect! Good luck on your research. <3

Posted by Optional on 28/11/2014 at 04:25

I'm 18 and i stayed in malaysia, i have this skin problem .some what flaky or dry appearance and it is not smooth , i tried to not use face wash because it will dried my face and take shower to much. But it did not go away , any suggestion would be lovely

Posted by Natasha on 18/11/2014 at 09:40

My face is very flaky and out in rashes I have trying everything on my face and nothing seems to work ... Had any one got anything that I could try ....

Posted by Optional on 16/11/2014 at 06:00

I have managed to totally get rid of the dermatitis on my forehead by mixing a small amount of caster oil with coconut oil, I rub it into my skin for 5 minutes and then put a hot cloth over it for 5 mins...then wipe it off gently with wet cloth. no more soap. It also gets rid of my acne!

Posted by Have had success. on 09/11/2014 at 09:57

I've been using unrefined coconut oil on my dry areas immediately after drying from a shower as well as when I wake up. A small amount of the solid oil rubbed into those areas has helped tremendously, like night and day. As for you, ladygray, that sounds like a combination of eczema and psoriasis. With your extreme case, you should see a doctor immediately.

Posted by Optional on 29/09/2014 at 05:28

Thank you

Posted by Cino pharmacy on 27/09/2014 at 09:54

Can infection and ulcer cause skin disease pls explain the syptoms between the two. And the possible ways to get rid of it. And pls differenciate the ways to know weather it is eczema disease, ulcer, or infection. Pls reply.

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 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 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'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 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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