Woman touching her left leg

Dry Body Skin Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

This website serves the purpose of providing general information and does not in any way replace medical or specialist advice. Consult a healthcare practitioner if symptoms worsen or persist.

The skin is one of the most important organs. It gives us our appearance, sense of touch, temperature control and protection against infections. However, rough, tight, scaly, itchy or painful dry skin loses its ability to function properly. Effective solutions are often possible, and are centered on a skin care routine that is suitable for dry skin.


Dry skin on the body – a very common complaint

Skin dryness is a leading cause of skin complaints, with over 40% of visits to dermatologists relating to dry skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it most frequently occurs on the hands, feet, knees and elbows, and face as these areas are more exposed than others. Dry skin on the face can contribute to premature ageing.

  • Mild dry skin
    At first the dryness may be noticed as a light tightness or mild roughness.
  • Dry skin
    Then, as the skin loses further moisture, the skin becomes rougher and may have a chapped or scaly appearance, and is likely to itch.
  • Very dry skin
    If this dryness remains untreated or the skin care is ineffective, the skin may become damaged, extremely tight, and potentially very rough and cracked. At this stage the itching can also become very intense.

Close-up from dry skin
Dry skin is not able to regulate its hydration.
Close-up from very dry skin
Internal and external factors can disrupt skin´s hydration ability and lead to very dry skin.

Affected areas of dry body skin

Dryness on the body often appears on feet and shins. Dry skin on the feet is particularly common, and often results in cracked heels.

However, dryness due to washing with a strong detergent is likely to affect the whole body equally. Frequent washing tends to contribute to dry skin on the hands, as they are they are always involved in washing.

Close-up from back of the hand with dry skin
As hands get washed frequently they tend to evolve dry skin.

If you are worried or unsure about your symptoms, or they are becoming worse, we recommend you see your doctor or dermatologist for a face-to-face consultation.


Understanding the causes of dry body skin

There are many causes and contributing factors to dry body skin, from environmental influences and inappropriate skin care to medical conditions like Psoriasis and Atopic Dermatitis. The skin acts as the body’s barrier, but this means it is exposed to both external and internal influences.

External factors

  • External factors cause the skin’s natural barrier function to become compromised, resulting in an increased moisture loss through the skin.
  • A breakdown in the skin’s surface barrier due to vital lipids being washed away prevents the skin from trapping moisture, and the rate of moisture loss out of the skin increases.
  • Finally, when the dryness progresses down into the deeper skin layers, the passage of water within the deeper tissues is reduced as important moisture channels become compromised.

Illustration of natural moisture factors evaporating out through the skin
A deficiency of water-binding natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) leaves the upper layers of the skin dehydrated.

External triggers

The main external causes of the above process are environmental triggers and skin care:


  • Harsh weather conditions - hot, cold and dry air disrupt the skin's barrier function.
  • Seasonal changes - symptoms of dry skin often worsen during either the winter or summer.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) sunlight can increase the rate of skin ageing, and skin becomes more prone to dryness as it ages. Read more about age-induced dryness.

Skin care

  • Frequent washing, or long, hot baths or showers, removes away the lipids that make up the skin barrier.
  • Inappropriate skin care routine – It is important to follow a routine, and use products, that are suitable for dry skin. It is especially important not to use strong soaps that strip away natural skin lipids.

Dry skin is a side effect of many medications. Commonly used medications that have this side effect are diuretic blood pressure medications that work by increasing the rate of water excretion from the body, and some antibiotics and oral acne medications. Always check with a doctor or pharmacist if you are concerned a medication may contribute to dry skin.

Woman protecting her face from sun
Overexposure of UV rays can lead to skin ageing and consequential to skin dryness.
Woman taking bath
It is recommended to restrict bath time and temperature as extensive baths can lead to moisture evaporation.
Woman with pills in her hands
As some medication may cause dry skin it is recommended to check with a doctor.

Internal factors

Genetic influences
The skin's moisture balance is also influenced by genetics. Some people have oily skin and some have dry skin, and these skin types are inherited, although an individual will not necessarily have the same skin type as their parents. Skin conditions like Atopic Dermatitis, Psoriasis, diabetes and ichtyosis often have a genetic link.

Hormonal influences
Changes in the level of certain hormones, particularly estrogen and testosterone can influence the skins moisture and lipid levels. This is particularly noticeable after menopause when skin is becoming dry due to a decrease in estrogen production.
Dry skin may also occur during pregnancy because of hormonal changes as well as the extra demand of bodily fluid.

Like any other organ, the skin requires a range of important nutrients in order to function properly. These include unsaturated fatty acids and vitamins. A lack of any of these can contribute to dry skin.

As skin becomes older the number of sebaceous and sweat glands in the skin is reduced, resulting in a reduced ability to produce sweat and lipids. Similarly, the water content of skin and its ability to hold moisture is also reduced. These factors lead to dryness which in turn contributes to skin ageing and the development of fine lines and wrinkles. Read more about age-induced dryness.

Pregnant woman holding her belly
Dry itchy skin during pregnancy can be alleviated with appropriate skin care.
Hands peeling an orange
A balanced diet rich in vitamins and nutrients is vital and helps to keep skin healthy.

Caring for dry body skin

Dry skin is caused by a breakdown in the skin’s barrier function which leads to the loss of moisture and water binding capacity due to a deficiency of moisturising factors. Therefore, dry skin needs a skin care routine that does not cause further deterioration of the skin barrier and replaces missing natural moisturising factors.

Recommendations for the care of dry body skin

Cleansing dry body skin
Dry skin is most likely dry due to the skin’s surface barrier breaking down, and therefore it is important that the cleanser is gentle enough not to wash away the skin’s natural protective barrier. Try Eucerin’s Complete Repair Cleanser which gently cleanses & supports skin’s pH balance to repair dry skin.

Moisturizing dry body skin
The first requirement for moisturisers for dry skin is to restore the moisture balance in the upper layers of the skin. So called “natural moisturizing factors” (NMF) compounds like Urea and Lactate bind moisture into the stratum corneum, or upper layer of the skin. The minimum recommended concentration of Urea, even for mild dry skin, should be 5%. Very dry skin generally requires a higher concentration of Urea and other moisturizing factors. The Eucerin Urea range for dry skin contains a range of 5% and 10% Urea body cremes and lotions, including hand and foot creams.

Woman pats her skin after showering
Rather than rubbing wet skin with a towel, pat it almost dry, then apply cream or lotion directly after.
Woman touching her right arm
To avoid skin´s moisture loss it is essential to use moisturisers on a regular base.

Dry, rough and tight skin can be caused by breakdown in three main areas of moisture control – a broken surface barrier due to a deficiency of skin lipids, a dehydrated stratum corneum due to a lack of natural moisturizing factors, and poor moisture distribution in the lower layers of the skin. Eucerin Complete Repair Lotions deal with the three main factors behind dry skin with dermatologically proven ingredients.

  • Firstly, Urea and other water-binding natural moisturizing factors are replenished resulting in improved hydration in the stratum corneum.
  • Secondly, Ceramide-3 protect's the skin's natural moisture barrier.
  • Finally, Gluco-glycerol supports and replenishes the skin's natural moisture barrier.

Eucerin Complete Repair Moisturizing Lotion 5% Urea is ideal for the daily care of dry, rough and tight skin, while Eucerin Complete Repair Intensive Lotion 10% Urea is ideal for temporary relief of typical dry and irritated skin.

Woman touching her elbow
Dry skin occurs anywhere on the body, but most frequently on the most exposed parts, such as hands, feet, knees and elbows and face.
Woman touching her right leg
It is important to follow a routine and use suitable products for dry skin.

Protecting dry body skin against sun-exposure
It is advisable to reduce sun-exposure by wearing protective clothing and a sunscreen when going outdoors.

Woman applying cream on the crook of her arm
A suitable moisturiser should be frequently applied to the affected area.

Avoiding contributing factors

In addition to having a good cleansing and moisturizing routine, avoiding factors that contribute to dry skin is important. This will help to reduce the impact of dry skin and the need for treatment:

  • Avoid dry air by spending less time outdoors in hot and cold weather, and by using a humidifier indoors when the heating is on.
  • Reduce the time spent in hot water by having quick showers instead of long baths.
  • Using gloves when washing dishes will help to avoid hot water and strong detergents.
  • Wear clothes made of natural materials like cotton and silk that do not irritate the skin. Wool is natural but can irritate, and should be avoided.
  • Try to use a clothes detergent without dyes or perfumes, as these can remain on the clothes after washing and irritate dry skin.
  • Use care products without perfumes and colourants to avoid irritation.
  • Ensure that you drink adequate amounts of water - especially recommended for elderly people.

Woman soaps herself
It is recommended to not use strong soaps that strip away natural skin lipids.
Woman drinking glass of water
Drinking is vital as our skin is dependent on the body´s water balance.

This website serves the purpose of providing general information and does not in any way replace medical or specialist advice. Consult a healthcare practitioner if symptoms worsen or persist.