Water is an important component of skin, and it is well designed to retain
its natural moisture through the protective outer layer, oil secretion,
and replenishment from the blood stream. However, under some conditions
in some people, these mechanisms can be overcome-- artificially heated and
dried winter air, winds, rubbing, harsh soaps and chemicals are some examples
of such conditions.
The primary symptoms of dry skin are whitish scaling and cracking, and itching.
Onset in early winter is common in northern climates. The lower legs and
hands are often involved, and the dryness may occur in round patches or
more diffusely. The elderly are more susceptible due to a lower baseline
moisture content in the first place.
Occasionally an underactive thyroid can cause dry skin. This should be considered, particularly if other symptoms are also present.
Preventive: keeping heating temperature settings as low as possible, humidifying the winter air indoors, avoiding undue exposure to wind and cold, wearing
gloves when necessary, avoidance of water immersion such as dishwashing
without gloves, bathing at only moderate intervals, no more often then every
Therapeutic: The application of water-attracting oils and lotions can be
very useful, especially when done immediately after soaking and before evaporative drying has occurred. Petrolatum, lanolin and urea are examples of such substances. Used regularly such treatments can resolve or prevent most cases.