How to treat chapped skin?

The Causes of Cracked Skin and the Best Ways to Treat It

Depending on the cause, cracked skin may be accompanied with a variety of other symptoms. Paying attention to these symptoms may help pinpoint the cause.

Dry skin

Dry skin, or xerosis, is the most common cause of cracked skin.

In smooth and hydrated skin, natural oils prevent the skin from drying out by retaining moisture. But if your skin doesn’t have enough oil, it loses moisture. This makes your skin dry out and shrink, which can lead to cracking.

Dry skin may be caused by:

  • Cold weather. In the winter, low humidity and temperature can dry out your skin. Indoor heating also decreases the humidity in your home.
  • Chemical irritants. Many products like dish soap and laundry detergent can contain harsh chemicals. These substances can damage your skin’s barrier and cause dryness.
  • Hot water. The hot water from showers or washing dishes can reduce your skin’s moisture.
  • Medication. Dryness may be a side effect of some drugs, like topical retinoids.
  • Excess moisture. When your skin is constantly exposed to moisture, it can actually cause your skin to become irritated and dry out. This can happen to your feet after wearing sweaty socks for too long. This is because water is an irritant to the skin.


Eczema is a skin condition that causes redness and itching. It’s also known as atopic dermatitis. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it most often affects the face, hands, and inner arm folds and behind the knees.

The condition makes the skin appear very dry, which can lead to cracking. Other symptoms of eczema include:

  • peeling
  • flaking
  • blisters
  • intense itching
  • rough, scaly patches


Psoriasis is a disorder of immune dysfunction that makes skin cells grow too fast. As the extra cells build up, the skin becomes scaly. Inflammation also plays a big part.

The rapid accumulation of cells can lead to dryness and cracking, along with:

  • red patches
  • silvery white scales
  • itching, in some cases

These symptoms can develop anywhere, but they often appear on the:

  • scalp
  • elbows
  • knees
  • lower back

Diabetic neuropathy

Cracked heels are a common complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The condition can lead to diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage due to diabetes.

In diabetic neuropathy, your nerves can’t properly control the skin’s moisture. This can lead to dryness and cracking, especially on the feet.

Other symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include:

  • numbness in feet or hands
  • pain in feet, legs, or hands
  • foot calluses
  • ankle weakness

People with diabetes are prone to skin infections. In many cases, dryness on the feet can be a result of athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis.

Athlete’s foot

Another cause of cracked feet is athlete’s foot. This is a skin infection caused by a fungus.

The infection, which usually develops between the toes or on the bottom of the feet, can cause cracked skin. Other symptoms include:

  • redness
  • flaking
  • swelling
  • itching

Athlete’s foot often affects people who have constantly damp feet, such as swimmers and runners. It’s also common in people with diabetes.

Chapped lips

When your lips become very dry or irritated, they can crack, flake, and in some cases, became swollen, itchy, or sore.

Inflammation or dryness on the lips can occur for several reasons. Some of the most common reasons for cracked lips include:

  • frequent lip licking
  • cold weather
  • exposure to the wind
  • an allergic reaction to a lip balm or other product

Keratolysis exfoliativa

Keratolysis exfoliativa causes peeling on the hands and feet. It usually affects the palms, but it can show up on the soles of your feet, too.

The skin loses its natural barrier as the top layer peels off. This can lead to dryness and cracking.

Other symptoms include:

  • air-filled blisters
  • redness

7 Natural Ways to Combat Chapped Skin on Little Faces

If you enjoy winter activities like I do, you know Jack Frost nips at much more than noses. In fact, chapped faces are among a parent’s top complaints when trying to get their kids out of the house once in a while.

Are there any ways to treat or even prevent chapped skin naturally? Of course! Over the years I’ve learned what works—and what doesn’t—for protecting little chins, cheeks, and noses from the dry winter air. Here are the best ways to prevent, and in some cases treat, irritated facial skin in winter.

Hydrate from the Inside Out

Require a glass of water the morning before anyone heads outdoors. Hydrating young bodies supplies their largest organ (the skin) with the necessary fluids needed to withstand the elements as they perspire. A dehydrated epidermis is more susceptible to irritation than the skin cells of someone who has had plenty to drink, so encourage little ones to have an extra glass with breakfast or take a few swigs after brushing their teeth.

Serve a Vitamin-Rich Diet

According to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute, nutrients are vital to your skin’s ability to block environmental elements from harming the sensitive tissues inside. That’s why nutritional antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E are so essential; they can help protect and heal chapped face and neck skin simultaneously. Keep a steady supply of spinach, almonds, and citrus fruits in your family’s diet, even in winter. That way, when a spontaneous cold weather outing presents itself, you can say “yes” without reservation.

Butter Late than Never

It’s common to enjoy a successful snowshoeing or hiking trip only to come home and find your child’s face chaps hours later. Often this is the immune system’s response to the dry conditions, and it can be treated naturally. Lotions like the Baby Moisturizing Lotion from Tom’s of Maine carry natural moisturizers like shea butter that work after the first application, offering quick and lasting relief.

It’s surprising to hear sunburn is a common injury in winter since you deal with this environmental assault more commonly in the summer months. But UV rays are always present—even on cloudy days—and young cheeks, noses, and chins serve as a reminder of the sun’s power year round.

Discourage Lip-Licking

When lips are dry, instinct says licking them will provide a quick shot of moisture. Adults can self-regulate because they know it’s counterproductive, and instead reach for their favorite natural lip balm. Because kids don’t have the same self-control yet, they lick every time. Nonetheless, saliva irritates the skin around the lips, spreading quickly to chins and cheeks. Break the cycle before it starts by arming your kids with a stick of lip balm to keep in his or her jacket pocket so it’s never out of reach. Then, in the same way you make everyone use the restroom before heading outside, make it a habit to “balm up” together.

Wipe Noses Promptly

Snot happens. Luckily the clear mucus that appears (almost) the instant your kids step outdoors is harmless, unless you let it dry there. Keep multiple tissues with you so you’re always ready to dab clean the inevitable drips that can create irritation later.

Take a Page from the Diaper Diaries

Zinc oxide, the active ingredient in most diaper-rash ointments, is an all-natural mineral that does not absorb into the skin; it stays right on the skin’s surface, deflecting UVA rays. Plus, some natural ointments have sunflower oil and the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, which both work to repair damaged skin cells and protect against further irritation. Am I suggesting you lather your kids’ faces with bottom cream? You bet I am. For my family, nothing has been as effective for both prevention and treatment.

Recognize the Difference

Your kids’ skin is, by nature, more sensitive than your own. This knowledge alone will make you more vigilant, which is the first step toward prevention. Watch for signs of discomfort before irritation appears. Scratching, rubbing, or nose-stretching are all indications of environmental threats that can be thwarted early.

Don’t let chapped skin threaten your family’s outdoor fun. Equip yourself with some insight and a few simple natural supplies before heading out. What would you add to this list? Have you found a surprising source for natural chapping prevention or treatment? Tweet your tips to @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

4 Solutions for Dry, Cracked Skin

Healthy skin is soft, supple, and moisturized, but when it loses moisture and that moisture isn’t replenished by frequent application of creams and lotions and drinking plenty of water, skin can become unhealthy, dry, and scaly. Severely dry skin can even begin to crack. What should you do when your skin is so dry that it forms gaping, painful cracks? Add moisture, stat.

Dry Skin Solution No. 1: Baths and Soaks

You may think that soaking dry, cracked skin in water is a good way to replenish lost moisture. And you’d be right — and wrong. Water can actually be drying to the skin, says Christine Lopez, MD, a dermatologist and assistant program director in the department of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“Mere water will strip your skin of the essential oils,” Dr. Lopez explains. But that doesn’t mean that soaks and baths can’t still be soothing for dry, cracked skin — you just have to bathe the right way.

Adding a few drops of a natural oil, like mineral, almond, or avocado oil, will help heal dry, cracked skin, Lopez says. However, it’s important to limit those baths and showers to only a short time, no longer than 5 to 10 minutes with water that is only warm, not hot — hot water will only dry out the skin more. Lopez also suggests adding oatmeal or baking soda to the bath — about one cup for a tub full of water — to soothe the skin and help keep in moisture.

Dry Skin Solution No. 2: Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

As soon as you get out of the bath, Lopez suggests gently patting skin dry with a towel — don’t rub or remove all of the water. Next, apply a few drops of a natural oil or a rich moisturizing cream all over your body. This will help seal the moisture in.

For very dry, cracked skin, petroleum jelly is a good, inexpensive option to try. Lopez suggests rubbing in the petroleum jelly and letting it saturate the skin; if cracks are on the hands or feet, smear those areas well and cover them with cotton gloves or socks to hold the petroleum jelly in place overnight while you sleep.

Dry Skin Solution No. 3: Pumice With Caution

In general, pumicing or filing dry, cracked skin isn’t a good idea.

“I would limit the use of pumice stones” and similar tools, says Lopez. “I wouldn’t use that on skin other than heels or feet. On feet, where there’s repeated trauma, you can collect dead skin. That is where pumice stones or files can remove extra layers of dead cells so that the moisturizing cream will be absorbed better.”

Dry Skin Solution No. 4: Super Glue

Super Glue has another good use — dermatologists actually recommended using a dab of Super Glue on cracked skin to promote healing and prevent further drying. The active ingredient is the same as that of liquid bandages and other medical adhesives used to close cuts and wounds.

First, make sure the skin crack is cleaned, says Lopez. Then, squeezing the edges of the crack together, apply a bit of Super Glue — enough to hold it closed. Hold the edges together until the glue dries to make sure the crack doesn’t open.

The best medicine for dry, cracked skin is prevention, according to Lopez. To prevent painfully dry, cracked skin, apply a daily moisturizer all over the body. But even if you have dry skin, Lopez suggests being careful about going too heavy on creams and oils on your face, as that can lead to acne.

Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin

Simple changes can soothe dry skin

Following the same skin care routine year round may not work so well when the humidity drops. Without a change in your skin care, dry air can make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable. Dry skin can itch, flake, crack, and even bleed.

To help heal dry skin and prevent its return, dermatologists recommend the following.

  1. Prevent baths and showers from making dry skin worse. When your skin is dry, be sure to:

      Close the bathroom door
  2. Limit your time in the shower or bath to 5 or 10 minutes
  3. Use warm rather than hot water
  4. Wash with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser
  5. Apply enough cleanser to remove dirt and oil, but avoid using so much that you see a thick lather
  6. Blot your skin gently dry with a towel
  7. Slather on the moisturizer immediately after drying your skin Dry skin is a common issue that can affect anyone. To help, dermatologists recommend following these bathing tips to get dry skin relief. Click the image above to download a PDF.
  8. Apply moisturizer immediately after washing. Ointments, creams, and lotions (moisturizers) work by trapping existing moisture in your skin. To trap this much-needed moisture, you need to apply a moisturizer within few minutes of:

      Drying off after a shower or bath
  9. Washing your face or hands
  10. Use an ointment or cream rather than a lotion. Ointments and creams are more effective and less irritating than lotions. Look for a cream or ointment that contains an oil such as olive oil or jojoba oil. Shea butter also works well. Other ingredients that help to soothe dry skin include lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid, dimethicone, glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum.


    Carry a non-greasy hand cream with you, and apply it after each hand washing. This will greatly help relieve dry skin.

  11. Wear lip balm. Choose a lip balm that feels good on your lips. Some healing lip balms can irritate your lips. If your lips sting or tingle after you apply the lip balm, switch to one that does not cause this reaction.

  12. Use only gentle, unscented skin care products. Some skin care products are too harsh for dry, sensitive skin. When your skin is dry, stop using:

      Deodorant soaps
  13. Skin care products that contain alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) Avoiding these products will help your skin retain its natural oils.
  14. Wear gloves. Our hands are often the first place we notice dry skin. You can reduce dry, raw skin by wearing gloves. Be sure to put gloves on before you:

      Go outdoors in winter
  15. Perform tasks that require you to get your hands wet
  16. Get chemicals, greases, and other substances on your hands
  17. Choose non-irritating clothes and laundry detergent. When our skin is dry and raw even clothes and laundry detergent can be irritating. To avoid this:

      Wear cotton or silk under your clothing made of wool or another material that feels rough
  18. Use laundry detergent labeled “hypoallergenic”
  19. Stay warm without cozying up to a fireplace or other heat source. Sitting in front of an open flame or other heat source can dry your skin.

  20. Add moisture to the air. Plug in a humidifier. If you can check your home heating system, find out if you have a humidifier on the system — and whether it’s working.

When to see a dermatologist

Your skin should start to feel better quickly. If these changes do not bring relief, you may want to see a dermatologist. Very dry skin can require a prescription ointment or cream. Dry skin also can be a sign of a skin condition that needs treatment. A dermatologist can examine your skin and explain what can help reduce your discomfort.

Related AAD resources

  • Dry skin relief (video)

Dry skin: Seven home remedies

Share on PinterestStudies suggest that sunflower seed oil may be used as a moisturizer.

There are a variety of home remedies a person can use to relieve dry skin. Most of the treatments below can be used as moisturizers unless otherwise stated. The best way to use a moisturizer is to apply it liberally to damp skin after a bath and let it soak in.

1. Sunflower seed oil

A 2013 study found that sunflower seed oil improved hydration when used as a moisturizer on participant’s arms.

The same study found that olive oil actually damaged the skin’s barrier, suggesting not all natural oils are suitable for use as moisturizers.

2. Coconut oil

Another natural oil that works well to treat dry skin is coconut oil. A 2014 study found that coconut oil is as safe and effective as petroleum jelly for treating dry skin. It was found to significantly improve skin hydration and increase the number of lipids (fats) on the surface of the skin.

As 2016 research explains, coconut oil contains saturated fatty acids that have emollient properties. An emollient is a fat or oil that acts as a moisturizer by filling in gaps in dry skin, making it smooth.

3. Oatmeal bath

Oatmeal is another natural ingredient that can help treat dry skin. Adding powdered oatmeal to a bath or using creams that contain oatmeal may help to relieve dry skin.

A 2015 study found that extracts from oatmeal had anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, suggesting it can help treat dry skin.

4. Drinking milk

Milk could also offer relief from dry skin, but not when applied to the skin. Research from 2015 suggests that a diet including milk could improve dry skin.

The study found that a fat contained in milk, called phospholipid, improved the skin barrier in mice when added to their diet. More research is needed to see if drinking milk has the same effect on skin in humans.

5. Honey

A 2012 review of research notes that some studies have shown honey to be beneficial for many types of skin diseases.

Share on PinterestSome studies suggest that honey may be used as an at home treatment to relive dry skin.

Various studies have found honey to be:

  • moisturizing
  • healing
  • anti-inflammatory

These are all qualities that suggest honey is an ideal at home treatment to relieve dry skin. It is completely natural and can be applied directly to the skin.

6. Petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly, otherwise known as mineral oil, has been used as a moisturizer for years.

In 2017, researchers found that the skin barrier in older people improved after they used petroleum jelly. This finding supports the use of petroleum jelly to treat dry skin, especially when caused by aging.

7. Aloe vera

Aloe vera gel may help provide relief from dry skin, according to a 2003 study.

A person with dry skin on their hands or feet can apply aloe vera gel and cover the affected area with a sock or glove. People may prefer to do this before they go to bed and leave the gel on all night.

If dry skin is on another area of the body, applying aloe vera gel liberally and allowing it to soak in may achieve a similar effect.

Temperatures are dropping and there’s less moisture in the air, and we all know what that means — lips start to get dry, itchy, and cracked. Yet, while you obviously know what chapped lips feel like (hint: they’re super tight and uncomfortable), you might not know exactly what causes your lips to get this way. Turns out, there are a number of reasons for chapped lips, and once you know the triggers, you can look to a few lifestyle habits that will help keep them soft and hydrated — even when the weather isn’t cooperating. Here are common causes of chapped lips, along with a few dermatologist-approved tips for treating and preventing them, to keep on your radar.

First off, what exactly are chapped lips?

Chapped lips, also known as cheilitis, can have many triggers, says Erum Ilyas, a dermatologist in Pennsylvania. “When you hear ‘chapped lips’ most people are thinking about cheilitis sicca,” she says. “This is chapped lips as a result of excess dryness.”

The skin on the lips is among the most sensitive areas on the body and the most exposed to the environment, explains Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The lips do not have the same concentration of oil glands as regular skin and are constantly exposed to environmental factors, like lip licking, cosmetics, and cold weather. “All of these factors can dry out the skin barrier, leading to irritation, inflammation, and flaking,” he says.

What are the major causes of chapped lips?

As the weather gets colder and drier, the thin skin on the lips tends to dry out faster than the rest of our skin. This can make the lips look cracked, flaky, and raw in some areas, which can be really uncomfortable, Ilyas explains. But the weather isn’t always the cause of your parched lips. When there’s irritation from a product or an allergy, called contact cheilitis, lips can also become inflamed. These allergic reactions are usually due to pigments in lipsticks, fragrances, and flavoring agents in foods. You can do patch-testing at your dermatologist’s office to see if that’s a cause.

But irritation could also be from your everyday skin-care products. “I find that when patients use acne products, they often inadvertently get some on their lips,” says Ilyas. “These products are designed to exfoliate your skin to improve . If they get on your lips, you will find your lips are persistently dry and cracked.” Apply white petrolatum or balm to your lips before applying products formulated with salicylic acid. “The balm acts as a protective barrier on your lips to avoid the irritation they can cause,” she says.

And if you have a history of sun damage, your lips are probably taking the heat, too. “In adults with a lot of sun damage over the years, it’s not uncommon to have patients come in concerned about ‘chapped lips,’ which may be in one spot or along the entire lower lip year-round,” says Ilyas.

Unfortunately, this can be the sign of precancerous changes to the lips, called actinic cheilitis, she says, so you’ll want to get this checked by a doctor, for sure. “This is important to consider as we need to treat the underlying sun damage to improve the texture and appearance of the lips,” she says. It’s often treated with cryotherapy, a topical chemotherapeutic agent, or photodynamic therapy.

How can you prevent chapped lips?

In mild cases, the skin on the lips may be able to repair itself. However, in cases of significant irritation, the lips may need outside help to repair a damaged skin barrier, says Zeichner. A good rule of thumb is to keep lips moist throughout the day to prevent drying from occurring in the first place. Regularly applying lip balms containing ingredients like occlusive agents, such as lanolin in Aquaphor, white petrolatum in Vaseline, or simply beeswax, will help protect the lip skin and make them more effective.

Winter can really do a number on your skin. Of course, braving the elements outside will leave exposed skin dry, cracked and chapped. But, inside can be just as brutal. Overheated offices and overly hot showers will also damage your derm. Anything that comes in contact with irritated skin needs to be gentle as to not add to the assault. These products have been specially formulated to prevent and heal the damage.

C.O. Bigelow Chapped Hands Soap-Free Cleanser #140

It’s even more important to wash your hands during cold and flu season. Liquid soaps may contain harsh detergents that will dry and crack your skin the more frequently you scrub. Clean up with this natural nourisher formulated with healing Aloe and moisturizing Jojoba oil. No. 140 Chapped Hands Cleanser contains active levels of therapeutic ingredients. It liquefies on contact and will leave your skin smooth and protected. $12.

Buckler’s Chapped Skin Remedy

There are body parts like feet and elbows that might not be overly exposed to the elements but still get dry and chapped in the winter months. Buckler’s Chapped Skin Remedy is a moisture intense formula that works to repair irritated, cracked skin. It’s packed with nutrients like Chamomile and Calendula extracts, Aloe juice and Shea Butter. Let this non-oily, heavy duty, hydrator soak into your skin and go to work healing your chapped, dry skin. $19.

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Deep Moisture Balm

When an ordinary moisturizer just won’t cut it, Kiehl’s latest winter skin salvation will save your hide. Specially formulated with Edelweiss Flower Extract this balm locks in moisture and strengthens the epidermal barrier. The formula’s efficacy was proven to work in extreme temperatures when it was adventure-tested by Kiehl’s President, Chris Selgardo and Discovery Channel’s Grant Reynolds on a weeklong motorcycle ride through Alaska. Slather some on your chapped skin while watching it here:


Ski Balm

Ski Balm has also been terrain tested and proven to protect from “severe skin dehydration”. Exposure at high altitudes, severe cold, blazing sun and high winds can strip every bit of moisture from your skin. Prevent redness, chapped skin and flaking by applying Ski Balm before shredding the slopes. It will create a breathable layer of protection between your face and the elements. $5.99

Hurraw! Balm

Chapped lips are the worst. Be careful to use the right balm as to not make the situation worse. The folks at Hurraw! Balm obsessed to get this vegan recipe just right. Each balm is made from premium raw, organic ingredients. They make a bunch of fun flavors but we suggest starting with the no-nonsense, Unscented Lip Balm and working your way up to Black Cherry. It’s loaded with moisture and Vitamin E. Just a super smooth, creamy butter that will soothe and nourish your kisser. $4.29

Duke Cannon introduced Bloody Knuckles Hand Repair Balm

Chapped skin isn’t usually a concern until after the damage is done. No need to fear, Duke Cannon has you tough guys covered. Lanolin is the hero ingredient in this ultra-moisturizing balm that will sooth and repair even the roughest cracked skin. Just a dab of this healing, non-greasy formula will hydrate and smooth your winter paws. $15.

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