Dry skin is a very common complaint affecting one in five people in the UK. It can affect people of all ages although children and the elderly tend to be more susceptible. It is particularly common during the winter months.

Symptoms include dry, rough and red skin which often feels tight after washing. In severe cases the skin can begin to flake, crack, itch and even bleed. Dry areas of skin commonly appear on the face, hands, arms and legs.


The outer layer of the skin (the epidermis) is covered with a mixture of water and oils forming a protective film. This film acts as a natural moisturiser keeping the skin hydrated and it does this by trapping the moisture in. The skin also contains substances such as urea which bind with water keeping it moist and supple. Dry skin occurs as a result of water being lost from the epidermis. The underlying cause of this moisture loss may be any of the following:

  • some people have a genetic predisposition to dry skinpeople who are under 10 or over 60 years of age are more susceptible to dry skin as their skin is thin and has less oil-producing glandsdryness can be a symptom of long-term skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasishormonal changes can affect the skin's condition, for example many women complain of dry skin during pregnancycentral heating dehydrates the skin making it dry out. Air conditioning and poor ventilation can also have a similar effectthe weather can affect the condition of the skin. Dry, cold and windy weather can dry out the skin as can continued exposure to the sunany chemicals, solvents, cosmetics, detergents or soaps which come into contact with the skin can have a drying effectexcessive contact with water can also have a drying effect on the skindiet can affect the overall condition of the skin
  • the skin can become dry as a result of taking some medicines. If you start to take a new medicine and the condition of your skin changes, tell your pharmacist or doctor

Avoiding Dry Skin

  • apply a moisturiser regularly. It is best to apply it when your skin is still moist after bathing or taking a showermake sure that the water is not too hot when you have a bath or showerwhen drying your skin, pat it dry rather than rubbing itdrink plenty of water (at least 1½ litres a day)try not to have your central heating on all the time. Turning it off at night will helphydrate the atmosphere in your home by placing a bowl of water or damp towel on a radiatoruse non-biological washing powder instead of biological varietiesavoid contact with chemical agents such as detergents, soaps and bath additiveswear protective gloves when washing up and using cleaning fluids.Use a sunscreen if you are out in the sunwear cotton clothing rather than wooleat a well-balanced healthy diet
  • use lip salve to keep your lips hydrated


Emollients are moisturising treatments which can help to relieve dry skin. They soothe, soften and hydrate the skin by replacing lost water and they form an oily film on the surface of the skin to prevent further water loss. They are available from pharmacies in many different forms: as ointments, creams, lotions, sprays, gels, washes, shower gels and bath additives. Most people try a number of products before finding one that best suits them. They should be used regularly (at least twice a day) as part of a skincare routine.Extreme cases of dry skin may need steroid treatment. Topical steroids are steroid medicines that are applied directly to the skin. They help to suppress inflammation. They are available in four different strengths. Some mild forms are available over the counter from pharmacies but these must not be applied to the face. Others are available on prescription.

When To See A Doctor

Make an appointment to see your doctor if your skin becomes very itchy or if your skin becomes broken, oozing or crusty.

Additional Information

Leaflets about eczema, psoriasis, sun protection and emollient products are also available from this pharmacy.