Dry Skin and Itching
Many older people suffer from dry skin, particularly on their
lower legs, elbows, and forearms. The skin feels rough and scaly
and often is accompanied by a distressing, intense itchiness.
Low humidity ó caused by overheating during the winter and air
conditioning during the summer ó contributes to dryness and
itching. The loss of sweat and oil glands as you age also may
worsen dry skin. Anything that further dries your skin ó such
as overuse of soaps, antiperspirants, perfumes, or hot baths ó
will make the problem worse. Dehydration, sun exposure, smoking,
and stress also may cause dry skin.
Dry skin itches because it is irritated easily. If your skin
is very dry and itchy, see a doctor. Dry skin and itching can
affect your sleep, cause irritability, or be a symptom of a
disease. For example, diabetes and kidney disease can cause
itching. Some medicines make the itchiness worse.
The most common treatment for dry skin is the use of
moisturizers to reduce water loss and soothe the skin.
Moisturizers come in several forms ó ointments, creams, and
lotions. Ointments are mixtures of water in oil, usually
either lanolin or petrolatum. Creams are preparations of
oil in water, which is the main ingredient. Creams must be
applied more often than ointments to be most effective. Lotions
contain powder crystals dissolved in water, again the main
ingredient. Because of their high water content, they feel cool
on the skin and donít leave the skin feeling greasy. Although
they are easy to apply and may be more pleasing than ointments
and creams, lotions donít have the same protective qualities.
You may need to apply them frequently to relieve the signs and
symptoms of dryness. Moisturizers should be used indefinitely to
prevent recurrence of dry skin.
A humidifier can add moisture to the air. Bathing less often
and using milder soaps also can help relieve dry skin. Warm
water is less irritating to dry skin than hot water.