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What is very dry skin and what causes it?

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Severely dry skin can be distressing especially for babies and children, but unfortunately it’s a common problem. Read about how to recognise it and what causes it.

What is severely dry skin?

Healthy skin contains water as well as protective oils and fats. Skin that doesn’t produce the right quantity of oils and lipids won’t be able to retain very much water and will become dry. This can lead to soreness, discomfort and sensitivity.  Skin like this can also look dry and lack smoothness.

Very dry skin can be present all over the body or in patches –the hands, backs of the knees, scalp and face are common places for it to occur.

What causes very dry skin?

There's  no one cause of severely dry skin although a tendency to this type of skin can be inherited. Very dry skin is sensitive skin and so needs gentle treatment – many things can aggravate it. Some people who suffer from severely dry skin find it gets worse in cold, dry weather. It can also be made worse by certain soaps, bubble baths, shampoos, detergents and things that can trigger allergic reactions such as pollen, pets and mould.

For some people, particularly babies, certain foods such as eggs and dairy products can be associated with severely dry skin.

How common is it?

Severely dry skin often affects chidlren. It's estimated that 1 in 5 children under the age of 6 and 1 in 12 adults has severely dry skin. Some children find the condition disappears as they grow up, but it can flare up again in adulthood.

What are the symptoms of severely dry skin?

Symptoms of very dry skin vary in severity from person to person and aren’t necessarily there all the time – they tend to flare up and die down.

Itchiness is one of the main symptoms of severely dry skin and this can prevent babies and children from getting a good night’s sleep. Scratching the skin can make it more inflamed, leading to an itch-scratch cycle where the skin cracks and can become infected – so it’s important for the safety of babies and children to give severely dry skin expert care.

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