It’s hard not to get worried when you realize one day that you have patches of dry skin on your body. It can be disfiguring and distressing, especially if the patches appear on exposed parts of your body, such as your arms and face. For the most part, dry patchy skin is often only temporary and responds well to home treatment measures. This article will illustrate the more common causes of dry patchy skin, as well as how to avoid or treat them.
Ichthyosis literally means “fish skin”, and is also known as “fish-scale disease” or “fish-skin disease.” Ichthyosis is marked by scaly patches of dry skin that may occur anywhere in the body. The scaly patches vaguely resemble the scales of a fish. There is currently no way to avoid ichthyosis, but application of moisturizers can help improve the skin’s condition.
2. Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is often called “eczema,” and is the most common type of dermatitis. It is hereditary and runs in many families. The skin is unusually sensitive to irritants and allergens in food and the environment, presenting red, flaky dry skin. Atopic dermatitis occurs more commonly in infants, where it often attacks the cheeks. As with ichthyosis, moisturizers can help alleviate the symptoms, and over-the-counter steroid creams are also helpful. Avoiding known allergens is also a good idea.
Psoriasis is a skin condition marked by a rapid growth of skin. Skin cells usually take 28 days to move from the hypodermis (the lowest portion of the skin) to the epidermis (the surface of the skin), where they die. With psoriasis, this cycle is compressed into a mere few days, resulting in large amounts of dry patchy skin which flake off. Psoriasis is often treatable by daily lukewarm baths or showers, mild soaps and cleansers, and moisturizers.
Neurodermatitis is a type of dermatitis that is aggravated by scratching. Sometimes the skin becomes so dry and itchy that you scratch it on impulse. The scratching makes the dry skin worse, making it thicker and even itchier, until it develops an itchy patch of dry skin. Neurodermatitis often cannot heal unless you keep yourself from scratching, and this can be done by putting a bandage over the affected area. Moisturizers can also help soothe the itch.
5. Nummular Eczema
Nummular eczema is a type of rash that causes coin-shaped patches on the skin. While its cause is unknown, it has been found to be associated with dry skin and the winter months. Its condition has been found to improve with faithful application of moisturizers and prescription strength cortisone creams. Avoidance of wool clothing and not using fabric softeners in the laundry can also help ease the symptoms. It is often best to have the nummular eczema checked by your doctor in order to arrive at a more specific, effective treatment.
6. Seborrheic Eczema
Seborrheic eczema is better known as that annoying scalp problem, “dandruff.” While the patches of dry skin appear most often on the scalp, they can also occur on the eyebrows, the face, in the armpits, the genitals, and around the navel; anywhere the oil glands are more concentrated. It is usually caused by oily skin, stress, infrequent shampooing, and use of cleansers with alcohol. Dandruff can be treated with the usual dandruff shampoos-leave the shampoo on your hair for five minutes to ensure the medication reaches the scalp. More serious cases of seborrheic eczema often merit a visit to the doctor.
Other causes include overexfoliating, overuse of Retin-A, and the use of moisturizers that contain alcohol. Overexfoliating can take its toll on your skin by drying it too thoroughly. Retin-A also tends to dry out the skin, and while it can benefit the skin with mild, controlled use, it can shrivel the skin and cause wrinkles when used too much. Alcohol also has a drying effect on the skin.
Treatments include drinking enough water to keep the skin hydrated (8 glasses a day is enough), resisting the urge to pick, scratch, or peel at the dry patchy skin (it can open fissures in the skin, inviting infection), and avoiding any skin products that contain alcohol.
The rule of thumb is to see the doctor when the dry patchy skin occurs suddenly and without warning. It may be a sign of a more serious skin condition. Also, see your doctor when the dry patchy skin fails to respond to home treatment. Your doctor may authorize a biopsy (taking a small piece of your skin and examining it under a microscope) to determine the exact cause of your affliction.