What Causes Patches of Dry Skin and What Can You Do to Treat and Prevent Them?

Dry skin patches can feel rough and scaly in only certain areas, which is different than just having overall dry skin. While dry skin patches can crop up anywhere, they often appear on the:

  • elbows
  • lower arms
  • hands or wrists
  • feet or ankles
  • chest
  • knees or lower legs
  • face
  • eyelids

Read on to learn more about what could be causing your dry patches.

11 possible causes

There are several possible causes for dry patches, many of which can be effectively treated.

1. Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a condition that occurs when you come into contact with a substance that causes a skin reaction. It often causes a red, itchy rash. If you have it on your hands, you might develop scaling on your fingers.

Contact dermatitis can be treated, usually with steroid creams or oral medications. It's not contagious, meaning you can't give it to others or catch it from other people.

2. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to multiply too quickly. People with psoriasis may develop scaly, itchy patches of skin on their body. This chronic condition causes flare-ups that may be triggered by:

  • stress
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • infections
  • an injury to the skin
  • certain medications
  • vitamin D deficiency

There are many treatments available to help manage symptoms of psoriasis, including topical creams, light therapy, and oral or intravenous medications. Your doctor will recommend one based on the severity of your condition.

3. Eczema

Eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis, is common in children, but can occur at any age. The condition causes itchy, reddish-brown patches to form on the:

  • hands
  • feet
  • ankles
  • wrists
  • neck
  • upper chest
  • eyelids
  • elbows
  • knees
  • face
  • other areas

These patches may crust over when you scratch them. Eczema isn't contagious, and there are several treatments, including creams, drugs, and light therapy, to help you manage flare-ups.

4. Athlete's foot

You don't have to be an athlete to get athlete's foot. The condition is caused by a fungal infection that usually affects the area in between your toes. Symptoms include a scaly rash that causes itching, stinging, or burning. Athlete's foot is contagious and can be spread through sharing personal items or walking on a contaminated floor. Antifungal ointments or creams are usually recommended to get rid of the infection.

5. Dry air

Sometimes, dry, cool air can strip your skin of moisture and cause you to develop dry skin patches. In the summer, higher humidity levels can help stop your skin from drying out. But too much sun exposure can also leave you with dry skin.

6. Dehydration

If you don't drink enough fluids throughout the day, you might develop patches of dry skin. Aim to consume the following amounts of fluid a day:

  • 15. 5 cups of fluid for men
  • 11. 5 cups of fluid for women
7. Nutritional deficiencies

Not consuming enough calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin E may cause dry, white patches to form on your skin. Dry patches caused by nutritional deficiencies are usually harmless, but may suggest that you need to eat a more balanced diet, or take supplements.

8. Smoking

Smoking can be a trigger for dry skin. Additionally, it can lead to wrinkles and a dull skin tone.

9. Older age

As you age, your pores naturally produce less oil, and you may notice that your skin becomes dryer. Dry patches of skin in older people often surface on the lower legs, elbows, or lower arms.

10. Stress

Stress can affect your body in many ways. Some people develop dry skin. If you have a condition like psoriasis or eczema, stress may worsen your symptoms or bring on a flare-up.

11. Soaps and over-washing

Using or overusing harsh soaps, perfumes, or antiperspirants may dry out your skin. Additionally, taking long, hot baths or showers can worsen the problem.

Causes in babies and toddlers

Cradle cap is a common condition in babies and toddlers. It causes itchy, red skin to form on the scalp, face, and chest. In many cases, symptoms can be managed with special shampoos, creams, and other therapies. Cradle cap usually goes away between 6 months and 1 year of age.

How to treat dry skin patches

Treatment for your dry patches of skin will depend on what's causing your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription creams, ointments, or lotions. In some cases, pills or infusions of stronger medicines are used to clear up the skin condition. Talk to your healthcare provider about which treatment is best for what's causing your symptoms.

When to seek help

You should see a doctor if your dry skin becomes severe or doesn't go away. Additionally, it's a good idea to get checked out if you think your dry skin might be a sign of an underlying illness. Seeking out early treatment for your skin condition may lead to a better outcome.

How are dry skin patches diagnosed?

If you have dry patches of skin, your doctor will probably conduct an exam and ask about your medical and family history. You'll likely be referred to a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in skin issues. Depending on the suspected condition, you might need lab tests or skin biopsies.

How to prevent patches of dry skin

You may be able to help your dry, itchy skin by doing the following:

  • Use moisturizers every day to keep skin hydrated.
  • Limit baths and showers to no more than once a day.
  • Limit the time you spend bathing to 10 minutes or less.
  • Avoid hot baths or showers. Instead, take showers and baths in warm or cold water.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.
  • Use moisturizing body and hand soap.
  • Cover up your skin, especially in cold or sunny weather.
  • Avoid itching or rubbing your dry skin.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.


There are many possible causes for dry patches of skin. You may have a skin condition, or the dryness could be related to other lifestyle habits or exposures. Most of the time, symptoms can be effectively managed with the right medications or home remedies. Talk to your doctor if the dry patches start to bother you or worsen.