Dry skin is common; as skin loses moisture the surface cracks.
The inherited forms of dry skin are known as ‘ichthyosis' (fish-scale skin). There are various kinds of ichthyosis. Dermatologists often call dry skin arising in later life ‘xerosis', ‘asteatosis' or ‘acquired ichthyosis'.
The dry areas may result in dermatitis, i.e. the skin becomes red and itchy. This may result in a crazy-paving appearance on the lower legs (‘eczema craquele;'), or round patches scattered over the trunk and limbs (a dry form of nummular dermatitis). Sometimes the dry skin is just itchy, without much of a rash (sometimes known as ‘winter itch', ‘7th age itch', or ‘senile pruritus').
Factors which contribute to dry and cracked skin include:
- Inherited factors
- Metabolic factors such as an underactive thyroid gland, or excessive weight loss.
- Increasing age, resulting in decreased natural lubrication.
- Cool weather, especially when windy or the humidity is low.
- Air conditioning, central heating or sitting close to a fire or fan heater.
- Excessive bathing, showering or swimming, especially in strongly chlorinated hot or cold water.
- Contact with soap, detergents and solvents.
- Frictional irritation and chapping.
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