Irritated and dry skin

Dry or irritated skin can cause itching, redness and, in some cases, cracking and bleeding.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2023

What is irritated and dry sin?

You might have dry skin patches or a rash that becomes worse if you scratch your skin, or your clothes rub too much. In many cases, using an over-the-counter moisturiser is all that’s needed. If that doesn’t work, you should ask your GP for advice. That’s because, in some cases, dry or irritated skin can become infected or can be a sign of another medical condition. Very dry skin is sometimes known as atopic dermatitis, or eczema.

Other types of dermatitis include:

  • Contact dermatitis, an allergic skin reaction from touching a chemical or metal
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, which mainly affects the scalp (in babies, it’s known as cradle cap)

How to tell if you have irritated and dry skin

You might have dry skin on your face or anywhere else on your body. It can be itchy, as well as flaky or scaly. You might know what’s caused the problem, such as a new type of soap or perfume.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Book an appointment

Diagnosis and tests for irritated and dry skin

Your GP may be able to diagnose your condition by examining your skin.

They may arrange for you to have blood tests. These check for other conditions such as iron deficiency, an underactive thyroid, or liver or kidney problems.

Your GP might also suggest you have a chest X-ray to check for signs of other diseases that cause itchy skin, such as enlarged lymph nodes. In some cases, your GP may refer you to a dermatologist (a consultant who specialises in skin) for further tests.

Causes of irritated and dry skin

You’re more likely to have a dry skin condition as you get older because the pores in your skin produce less oil. Many older people have dry skin on their lower legs, elbows and forearms. You’re also more likely to have dry skin in winter when the air is dryer.

Other factors that increase the risk of having dry skin include:

  • A family history of dry skin conditions including ichthyosis and atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Washing your skin frequently, especially if you use very hot water or perfumed soap
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress or spending too much time in the sun
  • An allergic reaction to something you’ve touched
  • A reaction to something you’ve digested (eg food or drugs)

Common treatments for irritated and dry skin

In most cases, simple lifestyle changes can relieve your symptoms. Drinking plenty of water and applying moisturiser, especially after your bath or shower can help.

You could also try using a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air.

In some cases, over-the-counter medications can improve your symptoms. If these don’t help, your GP may prescribe corticosteroid creams or other medications to relieve your symptoms.