Hope for Dry, Itchy Skin

Woman applying moisturizer cream on her legs over white background

If you follow the above tips, you should see improvement in your dry skin fairly quickly.

One of the most common concerns I see in my clinic is dry, itchy skin. Even if it is not the primary reason for the clinic visit, it seems at some point we are talking about how to address it. The frequency even increases this time of year as our dry Arizona climate gets even drier in the winter.

We experience all age-related changes in our skin barrier function and its ability to hold in moisture. Most people over the age of 60 will inherently have some degree of dry skin. Dry skin is also associated with a number of environmental factors, most notably the climate and how we care for our skin. Although there are some who are more prone to dry skin, such as the elderly and those with certain diseases, it really can happen to any of us.

A common cause or exacerbator of dry skin is our bathing habits. Frequent bathing with harsh soaps can strip our skin of the vital components it needs to help hold in moisture. Combined with our climate, it really can be a recipe for a very itchy night.

Fortunately, there are some simple things we can do to help relieve dry skin and its often-associated itch.

Baths and showers can worsen your dry skin. While the frequency of bathing can play a factor, how you bathe and what you do after is the most important.

Hot showers are drying to your skin. Turning down the temperature even a little can be very helpful.

Avoid harsh soaps. Most deodorant and anti-bacterial soaps are tough on sensitive skin. Use only gentle skin care products that are labeled “fragrance fee.” “Unscented” is not the same as they can still contain other odor neutralizing chemicals that can irritate your skin.

Apply moisturizer immediately following your bath. This is the most important step. You can pat dry with a towel, but apply a thick moisturizer before your skin is completely dry. This helps trap in moisture and goes a long way to getting and keeping your skin hydrated.

Use an ointment or cream rather than a lotion. Ointments and creams are much more effective at trapping in moisture than lotions. Lotions also tend to have components that can be more irritating.

One or more of the following ingredients can be helpful, as they aid in moisture trapping and help in restoring the normal barrier.

  • petrolatum
  • Dimethicone
  • glycerin
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • lanolin
  • mineral oil
  • shea butter

Avoid products that contain the following, as they tend to increase irritation.

  • Alcohol (except for hand sanitizer)
  • Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)
  • Fragrance
  • retinoids

If you follow the above tips, you should see improvement in your dry skin fairly quickly. If you are still struggling, it may be time to visit a board-certified dermatologist. Sometimes, you may need a prescription medication to help your skin heal its barrier function. They will also help sort out if there is another health concern that may be contributing to your dry skin such as atopic dermatitis, thyroid dysregulation, autoimmune, nutritional or malignancy. FBN

By Brad Taylor

Brad Taylor, MD, FAAD, received his medical training from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. After completing his dermatology residency at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Dr. Taylor served several years as the only active-duty dermatologist in Okinawa, Japan, before returning to Walter Reed to serve as chief of dermatology and consultant dermatologist to the White House, the Capitol and Congress. Although retired from military practice, Dr. Taylor remains passionate about all things dermatology and could not be more excited about the opportunity to treat patients of all ages here in Northern Arizona.

For more information, contact

Northern Arizona Dermatology Center, PC. 1490 N Turquoise Dr, Flagstaff, AZ 86001


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