Dry Skin

Dry skin can be rough, flaky, red, and sometimes painful. It’s often caused by not having enough oil and water in the layers of the skin. Common causes of dry skin include dehydration, heat, cold, poor nutrition, and side effects of treatment.

What to look for

  • Red, rough, flaky skin (although dry skin can look normal)
  • Cracks in the skin
  • Slight bleeding between the lines of skin covering joints, such as knuckles or elbows

What the patient can do

  • Add mineral or baby oil to warm bath water, or put it on after showering while skin is still damp. (This can make you and the floor slippery, so hold onto something when you’re moving around barefoot.)
  • Wash with cool or warm water, not hot water.
  • Avoid scrubbing the skin during showers or baths. Gently pat skin dry after bathing.
  • Put on moisturizing, alcohol-free creams twice a day, especially after baths.
  • Avoid colognes, after-shaves, and after-bath splashes that contain alcohol.
  • Use an electric razor.
  • Drink 2 to 3 quarts of liquid a day, if you’ve been told it’s OK to do this.
  • Protect your skin from cold and wind. Avoid hot water and heat, especially dry heat.

What caregivers can do

  • Put lotions or oils on hard-to-reach places.
  • Offer extra fluids.

Call the cancer team if the patient:

  • Develops very rough, red, or painful skin
  • Has signs of infection, such as pus or tenderness near broken skin

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: May 17, 2016

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