Rough and Cracked Skin – Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

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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 not only the body’s largest organ but plays a vital role in regulating body temperature and acts as a barrier protecting the body against infection. However, certain parts of the body are prone to becoming dry and cracked, resulting in the skin losing its ability to perform these functions. However a good skin care routine using products formulated specifically for rough and cracked skin can help to restore skin to a healthier state.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of rough body skin

Dry skin can occur anywhere on the body, but certain areas are more likely to become very dry or even rough and cracked.


Dry skin becomes rough and cracked when the dryness penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin.
The soles of the feet tend to become dry and cracked.

Dry skin occurs gradually, and follows a progressive process:

  • Dry skin feels tight and may appear slightly to moderately rough.
  • Often the first signs of dryness do not cause much discomfort, yet ignoring them is likely to lead to the dryness becoming more severe.
  • Very dry skin can be very tight, very rough, scaly, cracked and itchy.
  • The skin feels very tight and may also appear to be scaly and flaky.
  • Excessive dryness can cause the skin to shrink and become brittle, eventually leading to the skin cracking, especially in areas that need to flex during movement, such as the soles of the feet during walking. Skin may become inflamed.


Symptoms of rough and cracked body skin

  • Extreme tightness
  • Extreme roughness
  • Skin cracks or fissures
  • Intense itching


Affected areas of dry and rough body skin

Washing hands frequently can become a problem for dry skin, as the skin around the knuckles can break.
Dry facial skin can become rough and even look scaly.

  • The skin on our hands becomes dry because of frequent washing. The cracks commonly occur around the knuckles because the skin is tight and can easily break when stretched.
  • Skin on the feet, especially around the heel area, often becomes dry resulting in rough, cracked skin which can be uncomfortable and in severe cases can be painful and inflamed. The skin on the heels needs to be thicker to endure the pressure and movement stress of walking and running.
  • The lips are also prone to dryness, especially in acne patient under oral medication lips tend to crack which is very uncomfortable and painful.

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

Causes & Triggers

Understanding the causes of rough body skin

The causes of rough and cracked dry skin vary from poor skin care and environmental factors to health related conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis. These causes are influenced by both internal and external factors.


External factors

A deficiency of water-binding natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) leaves the upper layers of the skin dehydrated.

The dry skin, or skin dehydration, process occurs in stages:

  • Skin becomes dry when it starts to lose its natural lipids resulting in the breakdown of the skins surface barrier thus preventing the skin from retaining moisture.
  • This speeds up the rate at which the skins moisture is lost. The lack of water binding natural moisturizing factors causes the upper layers of the skin to become dehydrated.
  • Dry skin becomes rough and cracked when the dryness penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin, this compromises the skin's Aquaporins which are moisture channels within the deeper layers of the epidermis and regulate the moisture distribution from within.


External causes which might alleviate the dryness can be climatic conditions that influence the skin´s ability to retain moisture or the use of unsuitable skin care products.


  • Harsh weather conditions - hot, cold and dry air disrupt the skins surface barrier.
  • 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.
Some soaps are very harsh to skin and strip away natural skin lipids.
Some medications can lead to dry skin. Check with your doctor if your medication may contribute this side effect.

Skin care

  • Frequent washing, or long, hot baths or showers, removes 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 some medications. Commonly used medications that have this side effect are diuretic blood pressure medications that work by increasing the rate of water vapour 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.


Internal factors

On darker skin, signs of ageing appear less severe and start at a later stage.
Stretch marks can appear during pregnancy – the regular daily application of replenishing lotions or body oils in combination with gentle massage of the affected areas can help prevent the development of stretch marks.
After the age of 25 skin becomes gradually drier and less elastic over time.

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. Additionally, fair-skinned individuals seem to be more prone to dry skin than people with darker skin. Skin conditions like Atopic Dermatitis, Psoriasis and ichthyosis often have a genetic predisposition.

Hormonal influences
Changes in the level of certain hormones, particularly estrogen and testosterone can influence the skin's moisture and lipid levels. This is particularly noticeable after menopause or during pregnancy.

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. The overall term for this is age-induced dryness.

Like any other organ, the skin requires a range of important nutrients in order to function properly. These include vegetable oils and vitamins, particularly vitamin C and E.


Caring for dry and rough body skin

Avoiding contributing factors

Natural materials in clothes like cotton and silk are best for dry skin, as they don't irritate additionally.
It's always good to protect hands with gloves when they undergo frequent contact with water or detergents.

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.
  • Ensure that you drink adequate amounts of water.

Cleansing rough and dry body skin

Rather than rubbing wet skin with a towel, pat it almost dry.

As the initial cause of the skin’s dryness and roughness is the breakdown of the skin’s surface barrier, it is important that the cleansing process is gentle enough not to wash away the skin’s own lipids. Try Eucerin’s Complete Repair Cleanser to gently cleanse and support your skin’s pH balance to repair dry skin.

Moisturising rough and dry body skin

To alleviate symptoms of dry skin the regular application of skin care products is recommended.
The best time to moisture is when the skin is clean and slightly damp, for example after a bath or shower.

The first requirement for moisturizers for dry skin is to restore the moisture balance in the upper layers of the skin.

 Urea and Lactate: Natural moisturizing factors (NMF) attract and bind moisture into the stratum corneum, or upper layer, of the skin. Very dry skin that has become rough and cracked requires a higher concentration of these natural moisturising factors. Generally, products for dry and very dry skin should have at least 5% and 10% Urea, respectively.

Ceramide-3 helps protect the skin's natural moisture barrier.

Gluco-glycerol supports the skin's natural moisture barrier.

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.