5 Reasons Why Your Skin Is Dry & Scaly

November 26, 2018
Claudia Dimuro
By: Claudia Dimuro | skincare.com by L'Oréal
5 Reasons Why Your Skin Is Dry & Scaly

Kind of like a daily horoscope, there are a few skin conditions that can indicate a million different things. See a zit? The cause could be anything from stress to using the wrong skin care products. How about dry skin? Well, it may be the weather or it could be something else entirely. The same goes for scaly skin; there’s more than one reason why it could be popping up in the first place. Read on to learn more about what scaly skin is, what causes scaly skin, and a few easy steps you can take to help manage your symptoms.   


sclay skin what is

Scaly skin isn’t as dramatic as the name would imply. It’s characterized by itchy, reddened skin which flecks off in large flakes or “scales.” Luckily the reasons behind scaly skin are not unknown, and there are ways to help address your symptoms and find relief. We delve deeper into the causes of scaly skin and how to treat it, below.


The underlying cause of scaly skin is varied and many. If you’ve noticed your skin looks less smooth and more like a map of the Earth’s tectonic plates, any of the following five causes could be why.  

Scaly Skin Cause #1: Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis, a cousin condition to “dandruff,” is a type of skin inflammation. This inflammation, commonly found on the scalp, dries the skin out up to the point of scaling and flaking. Seborrheic dermatitis itself can be caused by the yeast that lives on the skin, genetics, cold and dry climates, stress, and overall health, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).  

Scaly Skin Cause #2: Eczema

Eczema “is a condition in which the outer skin layer is not working as well as it should be,” board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Joshua Zeichner advises. “The skin develops microscopic cracks in it with loss of hydration and inflammation.” Eczema flares can range from mild to moderate and are often associated with itchy red bumps that are scaly, dry, and rough. To learn more about what causes eczema and how it can be triggered, click here for answers to frequently asked questions.

Scaly Skin Cause #3: Psoriasis 

Kind of like eczema, psoriasis may at first look like run-of-the-mill dryness. In actuality, psoriasis is often characterized as thick, scaly patches that are itchy and painful. They occur when skin cells are produced at a faster rate than normal. Psoriasis is a chronic (but manageable) condition. To learn more about what causes psoriasis and how it can be triggered, click here for answers to frequently asked questions.

Scaly Skin Cause #4: Actinic Keratosis

Also known as solar keratosis, actinic keratosis is what can happen when you don’t wear your SPF. The skin is badly damaged by UV rays, resulting in painful rough patches and scaly skin. The condition can flare up and then dissipate, re-appearing anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. According to the AAD, actinic keratosis is considered precancerous, so regular checkups with a dermatologist is absolutely vital to monitor the lesions.

Scaly Skin Cause #5: Ichthyosis Vulgaris

According to the AAD, ichthyosis vulgaris is when the skin thickens, dries, and appears so scaly it resembles the body of a fish. The disease is primarily genetic and, in extremely rare cases, can flare up due to medicinal reactions.


Here are a couple of ways you can help manage the look of your scaly skin.

Tip #1: Use the Right Ingredients

The good news is that many ingredients recommended to help with the appearance of scaly skin, reduce itching, and hydrate the skin are available at your local drugstore. Zinc, cortisone, or even petroleum jelly are just a few ingredients that can help reduce the look of scaly skin. Keep in mind, however, that petroleum jelly tends to exacerbate the effects of seborrheic dermatitis specifically, so in that case we recommend against using it.

Tip #2: Wear Protective Clothing

Since conditions such as actinic keratosis are spurred by sun exposure, it would be wise to wear as much protective clothing as you can before heading outdoors, in addition to broad-spectrum sunscreen. Wide-brimmed hats and gloves offer a nice level of protection for your face and hands. If you’re experiencing eczema on your hands, try wearing latex gloves as you do chores such as washing dishes, to help avoid flare ups.   

Tip #3: Keep it Clean

Hygiene is a huge part of handling skin conditions. For ichthyosis vulgaris, the AAD suggests that dermatologists may recommend taking baths to reduce scaling while it’s softer with the use of an abrasive sponge. 

Tip #4: Dermatological Procedures

If you’d rather let a health care professional handle your scaly skin, you’re in luck. There are a ton of treatments available in-office. For conditions such as actinic keratosis, you can undergo exfoliation methods such as chemical peels or laser resurfacing to power through the surface layer of the skin and remove scales.

Editor’s note: Before beginning a treatment plan to manage your scaly skin, it’s important to understand why your skin is scaling to begin with. If you’re not sure, reach out to your dermatologist or skin care provider for assistance and recommendations.

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