Caring for Your Dry Skin

This information describes how to care for dry skin.

Dry skin can be a problem all year, but it’s more common in the winter when the humidity is low and the air is dry. Dry skin can look flaky, cracked, or red. It may also be itchy. It’s important to treat dry skin because your skin protects you from the environment. Treatment involves rehydrating the skin and adding moisture to the home.

The information below is for people who are not having radiation therapy. If you are having radiation therapy, your nurse will give you separate information about how to care for your skin in the area being treated. Ask your radiation therapy nurse before you do any of the things listed below.

Tips to Relieve Dry Skin

Follow the tips below to help repair your dry skin. These tips can also be used to prevent dry skin.

Showering and moisturizing

  • Take a short bath or shower with lukewarm or cool water every other day. If you must shower daily, take a brief shower. Do not soak in a tub for a long time.
  • Do not scrub your skin with a loofah or sponge. They contain germs and can irritate your skin.
  • Some soaps may be harsh on your skin. Use a gentle soap with moisturizers, such as:
    • Basis®
    • Caress®
    • Cetaphil®
    • Dove®
    • Eucerin®
  • Avoid friction on your skin. Pat your skin with a clean towel to dry off. Do not rub it dry.
  • Wear a moisturizer with broad-spectrum sunscreen all year round. Broad spectrum sunscreens help protect against both UVA and UVB sun rays. These sunscreens will have “broad spectrum” on the label. If your moisturizer does not have sunscreen, you can apply your sunscreen on top of your moisturizer.
  • Apply a moisturizer right after you get out of the shower or bath, while your skin is still damp. Most of the moisturizers below are available with sunscreen. 
    • Aquaphor®
    • Caress®
    • Cetaphil®
    • Eucerin®
    • Lubriderm®
    • Petroleum jelly (Vaseline®)
  • Reapply your moisturizer at bedtime.
  • Apply petroleum jelly or the moisturizer recommended by your doctor or nurse to your hands and feet at bedtime. Cover them with cotton gloves or socks.
  • Wear a fragrance-free lip balm that has no vitamins. Reapply it as needed.
  • Do not lick your lips.
  • After you wash your hands, pat them dry with a towel, then apply moisturizer.
  • Do not use products, such as colognes, gels, or aftershaves, that contain alcohol.
  • During the winter, protect your skin by wearing a hat and gloves while outdoors.
  • Avoid direct contact with fabrics, such as wool or angora. They may irritate your skin. Wear clothing made of 100% cotton and then layer it with woolen clothes.
  • Do not scratch your skin, even if it’s itchy. Scratching will only make it worse.
  • Look at your skin often. Very dry skin can crack or open. If bacteria gets in, it can lead to an infection.
  • Drink plenty of liquids every day.

In your home

  • Keep the air in your home moist by lowering the heat. Ask your doctor or nurse about other things that can help humidify the air.
  • Wear rubber gloves to avoid direct contact with harsh household cleansers. Reapply hand cream throughout the day.
  • Use a mild laundry detergent, such as:
    • All® Free Clear
    • Cheer® Free & Gentle
    • Dreft®
    • Tide® Free & Gentle
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Contact Your Doctor or Nurse if:

  • You have any signs of infection, including:
    • Pain, redness, swelling, or warmth around the open area
    • Pus draining from the open area
    • A temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher
  • You have severe itching
  • You have cracks in your skin
  • Your scalp is dry, flaking, or itching
  • Your lips, eyes, or the inside of your mouth, ears, or nose are dry
  • Your skin is very dry after you have followed these tips
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