What causes dry skin?

If you find yourself wondering why you’re experiencing dry skin, read on to learn about common causes and simple remedies.

Dry skin can appear seemingly out of nowhere and can be very irritating, especially when it is severe or extreme dry skin. Dryness can happen for many reasons, such as environmental changes, hormonal changes, medications, the natural loss of moisture that occurs with aging, and certain medical conditions—so keep reading to learn more about the causes of dry skin.

In many cases, lab testing can help uncover the reason for your dry skin. With Everlywell’s at-home lab tests, you can easily check thyroid hormones, levels of heavy metals—and more.

Here are 2 tests that can help you find the cause of symptoms like dry skin.
Slide 1 of 2
  • Thyroid Test
    $159
    Easily measure your levels for the 3 main thyroid hormones (TSH, T3, and T4) plus thyroid antibodies with this...
    Measures
    Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, TPO Antibodies, Free T3, Free T4
    Learn more
    Add To Cart
  • Heavy Metals Test
    $199
    This at-home test measures certain environmental toxins that may affect your overall health and wellness.
    Measures
    Arsenic, Mercury, Cadmium, Bromine, Selenium, Iodine, Urinary Creatinine
    Learn more
    Add To Cart

Common causes of dry skin

Dry skin can occur as a result of:

  • Thyroid disease - Thyroid hormone deficiencies can cause disorders like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which can result in rough, dry skin [1]. A kind of immune system malfunction known as Hashimoto’s disease is the main cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Test your thyroid hormones from the comfort of home.

  • Exposure to toxic heavy metals - Hardened patches of skin (or hyperkeratosis) can develop due to chronic exposure to some toxic heavy metals like arsenic [2]. Check for exposure to toxic heavy metals with the Everlywell at-home Heavy Metals Test.

  • Fungal infections - If you have athlete’s foot—which is usually caused by a fungal infection—you might experience dry, scaly, itchy skin on the soles and heels of your feet [3]. 

  • Inflammatory skin diseases - Several inflammatory skin conditions, like atopic dermatitis (eczema) and psoriasis, can cause patches of dry skin which are often itchy. 

One of the most common causes of dry skin is a change in the external environment. In temperate climates, air humidity decreases during the winter, which leads to a decrease in skin moisture. Indoor heating systems also sap moisture out of the air. This combination is a recipe for dehydration, which is why dry skin is often more common in colder months [4].

Regular thyroid screening is key: A healthy thyroid is important for many of your body’s functions (and thyroid disorders can result in dry skin and other skin-related symptoms). The American Thyroid Association recommends thyroid screening in adults beginning at age 35 and every 5 years after [5].

Get the Everlywell Thyroid Test

Health conditions related to dry skin

Dry skin can be a symptom of several different health conditions, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema)

  • Contact dermatitis (a type of skin response to allergens and irritants [6])

  • Psoriasis

  • Ichthyosis (a primarily inherited family of skin disorders [7])

  • Fungal infections

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Chronic exposure to toxic heavy metals like arsenic 

  • Certain autoimmune conditions, like Sjögren syndrome [8]

How common is eczema? According to some estimates, about 1 in 10 adults will develop eczema at some point in their life [9].

Seeking medical care for dry skin

Many dry skin conditions are temporary and resolve with self-treatment methods, but if your dry skin persists, make sure to consult your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can help determine if there’s an underlying health problem triggering the dry skin—and create a treatment plan based on this information.

A common symptom of thyroid dysfunction: In one study, dry skin was the most common skin-related symptom of hypothyroidism [9], a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormones.

Get the Everlywell Thyroid Test

Ways to minimize skin dryness

Dryness can occur as tight, itchy skin or red, sensitive skin. Depending on your particular skin type, dryness may also cause flaky, rough skin. But regardless of your skin’s appearance or texture, here are some ways to minimize dryness:

  • If you’ve identified a root cause, such as a new soap or detergent, make sure to first stop using the irritant and replace it with a milder agent, free of perfumes or dyes.

  • You can also try adding more moisture to your external environment by using a cool-mist vaporizer or other humidifiers.

  • Use a thick, fragrance-free moisturizer as a regular part of your skin-care routine. Look for a moisturizer that’s oil-based, not water-based, as water-based formulations can enhance evaporation and irritate dry skin. Often, this type of moisturizer will be called an “emollient” or “cream” instead of a “lotion.” 

  • In cases of severe dry skin, you can even use petroleum jelly, which can be highly effective at trapping moisture into the skin.

  • In addition to a moisturizer, one of the easiest dry skin remedies is to simply increase your water intake. Try drinking an additional eight ounces of water with every meal or make sure that you are regularly consuming foods that have high natural water content, such as fruits and vegetables.

Common questions about dry skin

What is dry skin?

Abnormal or excessive dry skin, known technically as xerosis cutis or xeroderma, refers to a loss of moisture in skin cells that form the top layer of skin (called the epidermis). Dryness can happen for many reasons, such as environmental changes, hormonal changes, medications, the natural loss of moisture that occurs with aging, and certain medical conditions.


Why is my skin so dry?

To determine the cause of your dry skin, it may be helpful to examine your daily activities. For example, has there been a recent change in your environment or routine? Even a new workout regimen, such as swimming in a chlorinated pool, can be the culprit. Make sure to consider even subtle changes, such as using a different brand of skin care product, dishwashing soap, or laundry detergent. 

Lab tests can also help find the cause—so consider trying an Everlywell at-home lab test that measures markers associated with dry skin.

Here are 2 tests that can help you find the cause of symptoms like dry skin.
Slide 1 of 2
  • Thyroid Test
    $159
    Easily measure your levels for the 3 main thyroid hormones (TSH, T3, and T4) plus thyroid antibodies with this...
    Measures
    Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, TPO Antibodies, Free T3, Free T4
    Learn more
    Add To Cart
  • Heavy Metals Test
    $199
    This at-home test measures certain environmental toxins that may affect your overall health and wellness.
    Measures
    Arsenic, Mercury, Cadmium, Bromine, Selenium, Iodine, Urinary Creatinine
    Learn more
    Add To Cart
Everlywell at-home lab tests may help you discover more about the dry skin affecting you.

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