Remedies for Itchy, Dry Skin

Sick of tight, cracked, prickly skin? You’re not alone. 

About one in 32 Americans has dry skin that requires treatment, “one in 18 has eczema and about one in 50 suffers from psoriasis,” says Judith Hellman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

We can’t escape the skin we’re in. But you can get rid of dry skin and ease uncomfortable symptoms. Here’s how to identify the problem and find relief:

Dry Skin

What is it?

If you’re plagued by mild scaling with on and off itching, dry skin may be the culprit, says Angela Bowers, MD, of Southlake Dermatology in Southlake, Texas. The lower legs and upper back may be particularly irritated because this is where hot shower water lands.

“Dry skin develops when the natural oils and moisture present in the skin are removed,” says Paul M. Friedman, MD, director of the Dermsurgery Laser Center in Houston, Texas. “Oils on the skin are constantly being removed every time the skin touches something. ”Age and menopause make it even harder to retain the skin’s moisture. And winter weather and low-humidity can make matters worse.

Feel better fast:

Stick to a healthy routine to soothe skin and stop itching in its tracks.

“Think of how the ground looks parched without rain – dry and cracked – and how it appears after rain, which quenches its thirst,” says Peggy A. Fuller, MD, a dermatologist at Esthetics Center for Dermatology in Charlotte, N.C.

Here are 10 tips to get rid of dry skin:

  1. Skip some hot showers and don’t soak in the tub. “Over-showering can contribute to dry skin by removing the body’s natural oils,” Dr. Hellman says.
  2. Stick to non-soap cleansers. Dr. Bowers recommends Cetaphil. 
  3. Don’t rub: Blot or pat yourself dry, so some moisture remains on your skin.
  4. If you need to use deodorant soaps, limit them to the armpits, genital area and feet, says Ilyse Lefkowicz, MD, of Wattenberg Dermatology Group in New York.
  5. Don’t use alcohol-based toners. They strip the skin of moisture, Dr. Bowers says. Also avoid scrubs, which remove moisturizing skin lipids.
  6. Apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing. Look for products with the ingredient “ceramide,” natural fats present in the skin’s structure, Dr. Friedman says. Try CeraVeTM moisturizing cream or lotion. “Look for dermatologist-tested or dermatologist-recommended products that are rich in moisture for dry, sensitive skin,” Dr. Fuller said. The experts also suggest Bio-Oil, Aveeno-Oilated Bath Treatment, Jergens, Oil of Olay and Curél to get rid of dry skin. Prescription glycolic or lactic acids can address severe dryness. 
  7. Avoid fabric softeners and use “All Free Clear” or “Tide Free” detergents.
  8. Crank up the humidifier during the central heating season to help get rid of dry skin.
  9. Always drink plenty of water and other liquids to keep your skin moist from the inside.
  10. Protect your skin with daily sunscreen, Dr. Friedman says. Use a minimum of SPF 30 with UVA and UVB protection.


What is it?

When dryness is accompanied by itchy, scaly, red, cracked, crusting or “weeping” skin, eczema may be to blame, Dr. Fuller says. Irritation is common in the folds of the neck, arms and the back of the legs. Itchy patches may even develop on the eyelids, elbows and knees. 

“Eczema is essentially a type of rash seen in atopic dermatitis,” Dr. Friedman says.

Triggers include everything from coarse clothing, heat, sweating, irritating soaps and detergents, disinfectants, dust mites, animal saliva and dander, even stress and upper respiratory infections.

Eczema can be hereditary and it often affects people with a family history of allergies. Fortunately, there are itchy, dry skin remedies available on the market that can help. “Eczema is sometimes referred to as ‘the itch that rashes’,” Dr. Lefkowicz says. “The itching may be so intense that it interferes with sleep.” 

Feel better fast:

“You can never cure eczema, but you can manage it and keep it under control,” says Robin Ashinoff, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Try these remedies to stop itching: 

  1. Stop the cycle by applying emollients to moist skin, Dr. Ashinoff says. Moisturizing body washes and petroleum jelly also can ease the itch. Dr. Hellman recommends Vaseline and Eucerin.
  2. Don’t wear perfume or cologne, Dr. Hellman says. 
  3. Take fewer showers and bathe with cool water.
  4. Use a humidifier or try putting a tray of water on your radiator, Dr. Ashinoff says.
  5. Apply cold compresses directly to itchy skin to reduce inflammation and itching, Dr. Lefkowicz says.
  6. Keep your fingernails short and wear cotton gloves at night to prevent scratching that punctures the skin while asleep.
  7. Avoid sweating and overheating, which can lead to itchy skin.
  8. Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothes. Wash new clothes before wearing and double rinse laundry to avoid irritating detergent residue.
  9. Watch out for foods that bring on an allergic response, which can aggravate eczema symptoms. Pay attention to how you react to eggs, chocolate, milk, nuts, shellfish, strawberries and wheat. Citrus food and sodas can also aggravate eczema.
  10. Don’t wear jewelry, which can trigger an outbreak, Dr. Fuller says.
  11. Talk to your doctor about prescription antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Claritin, Clarinex or topical steroids. Over-the-counter hydrocortisones may also help, but they work best under a dermatologist’s direction.


What is it?

Psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system, which stimulates the skin to turn over in three to four days instead of the usual 23 days. This is what leads to the telltale patches of thick, red, scaly skin. It can also cause yellowed, pitted and loose nails.About 2% of Americans suffer from psoriasis, with the condition occurring equally among men and women, Dr. Friedman says.

There are five types of psoriasis, but 80% of sufferers have plaque psoriasis, Dr. Lefkowicz says. Patches of raised, reddish skin covered by silvery-white scale appear on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp. 

If you are a psoriasis sufferer, blame your relatives. About a third of people who develop psoriasis have at least one family member with the condition. It’s also associated with obesity, depression, heart disease and excessive alcohol consumption, Dr. Fuller says. 

According to the experts, 10% of skin psoriasis sufferers develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes inflammation of the joints.

Feel better fast:

Psoriasis can’t be cured, but you can ease outbreaks and itchy skin. “Most patients with psoriasis are under-treated and can have an improved quality of life,” Dr. Friedman says. 

The following tips can help stop itching due to psoriasis:

  1. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone and moisturizers can treat symptoms, Dr. Bowers says. Also look for shampoos with tar or salicylic acid. Topical steroids and antihistamines can also ease the itch.
  2. Manage stress by eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and exercising, Dr. Lefkowicz says.
  3. Avoid triggers such as stress, infections, certain medications, skin injury and smoking.
  4. Limit alcohol, which can make treatments ineffectual. 
  5. Careful sun exposure can help clear things up, Dr. Hellman says.
  6. Try moisturizers such as Vaseline and Aquaphor, two top dry skin remedies.
  7. Talk to your doctor about Vectical, a prescription topical drug with Vitamin D3, Dr. Bowers says.
  8. Phototherapy and oral medication can also help. 

Originally published on Lifescript.

Last Updated: September 24, 2018