This patient information and photograph on Xerosis (dry skin) is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice or treatment of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Xerosis is a common condition of the skin. In general terms xerosis can be
thought of as excessively dry skin. It can occur at any age, but the older a person gets the more commonly xerosis is found. Typically it appears as very dry skin, and in some the skin may be so dry that scales and cracks form. It can occur anywhere, but it is most frequently seen on the arms and legs.
What causes it? Some people are just born with "sensitive skin" that is prone to dryness. As we age, the glands that keep our skin lubricated begin to slow down their output of oils. The outer oil layer of our skin serves to lock in the underlying moisture. When this oil layer is gone, evaporation of water from the skin occurs and the skin dries and cracks like mud in the desert. When the humidity is high less evaporation occurs, but during times of low humidity evaporation proceeds rapidly and xerosis becomes more prominent.
Is it dangerous? For the typical healthy person xerosis is a harmless disorder. It is not related to cancer and it does not involve internal organs.
Can it be cured? It can be controlled by replacing the lost water and oils from the skin, but it will return if preventive treatment is stopped. Please see my recommendations for moisturizers.
Will it spread? It can occur on any area of the skin, but it frequently stays localized to the arms and legs.
Is it contagious? Xerosis is not contagious and you can not "catch it" from anyone.