In the cold winter months, it’s not surprising that many people suffer from dry skin. If you’re slathering on all types of lotions and moisturizers, but nothing seems to help, something else might be to blame for your dry skin.

Could it be psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a very common skin disorder. Nearly 7.5 million Americans are treated for psoriasis every year. The condition is an inherited autoimmune disease, meaning that it is triggered by a faulty response from the body’s immune system.

In individuals with psoriasis, the immune system attacks the skin in two ways—destroying normal skin cells and over stimulating the growth of new skin cells. The body doesn’t slough off the new cells fast enough, so they build up on the surface and become dry, itchy patches. Stress, certain medications, infections, and injuries to the skin can make the condition much worse.

Psoriasis outbreaks can appear almost anywhere on the body. Patients most frequently report outbreaks on the lower back, scalp, elbows, and knees. Psoriasis patients tend to experience periods of intense flare-ups followed by periods of remission.

There are several types of psoriasis, but plaque psoriasis is the most common. Individuals with this condition have thick dry patches that are red and appear to be covered in silver scales.

Could it be eczema?

Eczema is also a very prevalent skin condition—more than 30 million Americans have it. That accounts for 1-3 percent of the adult population and 10-20 percent of children in the United States. Similar to psoriasis, researchers believe that eczema is an inherited autoimmune disease and that it is aggravated by certain environmental triggers (food, perfumes, dyes, hot/cold temperatures, dust, pollen, etc.).

This condition comes in many forms, but when the term “eczema” is used, it usually refers to one specific type of eczema: atopic dermatitis. Individuals with atopic dermatitis have skin cells with overblown inflammatory responses. This excessive inflammation creates patches of skin that are extremely dry, itchy, and irritated. Most of the time, these patches will appear on the face, back of the knees, and insides of the elbows. Like psoriasis, eczema outbreaks are cyclical—flare-ups followed by periods of remission.

Could it be an underlying disease?

If your skin is dry all over the body, not just in rash-like patches, it may be caused by an underlying disease that affects more than just the skin. Here are some examples:

Hypothyroidism: This condition is the result of an underactive thyroid gland. The skin is dry, itchy, and pale.
Diabetes: Increased amounts of sugar in the blood and dysfunctional nerves can cause dry skin.

If you are unsure about what is causing your dry skin, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your family doctor. All of these conditions are treatable with over-the-counter or prescription-strength medications.

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