Skin Care and Aging: Dry Skin

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

As we age, there are a number of changes in our skin. One of these changes is dry skin. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 85 percent of older people develop what is called "winter itch" which is dry, itchy skin caused by overheated, dry air indoors.

Other reasons for dry skin include:

  • Damage from years of sun exposure

  • As you age, the number of sweat and oil glands in your skin decrease.

  • Natural oils, which help to keep our skin soft and moisturized, are washed away by overuse of soap, antiperspirants and perfumes.

  • Not drinking enough fluids

  • Smoking

  • Stress

  • Health reasons - kidney disease and diabetes can cause itching, some medications may cause itching

Dry skin feels rough and scaly and is most commonly found on your lower legs, elbows and lower arms. The constant itchy feeling may interrupt your sleep and make you feel irritable. Because skin also thins, you may bleed more easily when you scratch your skin, which can lead to infections.

Using Moisturizing Products

There are many different products on the market to help improve dry skin and to lessen the itchy feeling. It can be confusing to know which one to choose. There are three main types of over-the-counter products:

Ointments - these are made from oils and stay on your skin longer and are not as easily absorbed by your skin than other products. Some people do not like using ointments because of the greasy feel.

Creams - these are also oil based but are less oily than ointments

Lotions - these are water based and are absorbed into your skin quicker than ointments or creams

Lotions will help provide instant relief but this relief is usually lasts only a short period of time and must be continually reapplied in order to have any lasting effect. Creams and ointments, while they are not as easily absorbed, will provide more long-term relief. Be sure to use lotions, creams or ointments every day.

Tips for Managing Dry Skin

  • Overuse of soaps, deodorants and perfumes can aggravate dry skin because they rid the skin of natural oils. Use a mild soap or a moisturizing body wash and limit the use of perfume or cologne.

  • Take fewer showers or baths and use warm water. Hot water more easily removes natural oils from your skin.

  • Apply lotions, creams or ointments immediately after bathing, when the skin is skin moist.

  • Avoid over-exposure to the sun, use sunblock, wear long sleeve, light clothing and use a wide-brimmed hat.

  • You may find that using a humidifier during the winter months when your heater is running helps to decrease the dryness and itchiness.

  • Practice relaxation techniques as stress can increase dryness and itchiness.

  • Avoid smoking or second hand smoke.

If, no matter what you do, the dryness and itchiness continues and interferes with your sleep or increases irritability, see your doctor. He may want to check for kidney disease or diabetes and may have additional resources to help reduce your dry skin and itchiness.


"Aging and Skin Care," 2009, Staff Writer, Cleveland Clinic

"Skin Care and Aging," Updated 2011, March, Staff Writer, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

"Skin Diseases," 2005, Aug 29, Staff Writer, The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging

"Treating Aging Skin," 2009, Staff Writer, Cleveland Clinic

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.