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Dry skin


Dry skin is an infection risk

Dry skin is dead skin, and dead skin is food for bacteria. Dry skin decreases the strength of the skin and makes it easy to tear open. It also breaks down the outer waxy coating that helps protect the skin. Dry skin can be very itchy and when scratched, can open easily. These open areas are a great place for an infection to start.

What causes dry skin?

Common causes include:

  • Frequent bathing
  • Harsh soaps
  • Outside temperature extremes (hot and cold air)
  • Wind
  • Dry indoor air from heating and cooling systems
  • Sun exposure (even cloudy days)
  • Medicines (including chemotherapy)
  • Bone marrow transplant (stem cell transplant)
  • Dehydration (not drinking enough fluids)

What is the best treatment for dry skin?

Dry skin is mostly preventable. These are the best treatments for dry skin in order of strength (1 is the most effective):

  1. Ointments (such as A+D® and Aquaphor)
  2. Creams (such as Eucerin®)
  3. Lotions (such as Keri®, Aveeno®, and Lubriderm®).

Simple formulas without fragrances are best. Avoid any perfumed lotions, they can contain alcohol, which can irritate the skin. They do not moisturize as well as the products listed above. The best moisture products often have fewer ingredients.

Wearing garments that cover more skin will help keep skin from losing moisture into the air. If your child is taking more than one (1) bath a day, stop the extra baths. Make sure the soap your child uses is a mild pH neutral soap (such as Dove®).

What if the skin is more itchy than dry?

If the skin is more itchy than dry, you might try an anti-itch lotion (such as Aveeno®). Remember these are lotions, and they do not provide the high moisture level of a cream or ointment. If the lotion helps stop the itch, then it is working. If not, choose a stronger moisture product, like a cream or ointment.

Adding baby oil or oatmeal soaking products to your child’s bath might also help. Please talk to your child’s doctor, nurse, or wound care consultant before using these products.

Cooler temperatures and loose breathable clothing (cotton) can help with extremely red, itchy skin.

How often do I need to apply?

The best time to apply any moisturizer is right after a bath or shower. Blot the skin dry after a bath or shower, do not rub, then apply the moisturizer. This helps the moisture stay in the skin. When the skin starts to look and feel dry again, such as when dry flakes appear, then it is time to reapply.

If you are applying moisturizer more than 4 times a day, and you still cannot keep up with the dryness, then it is time to use a stronger moisture product (see list above.) Talk to your child’s doctor, nurse, or wound care consultant if you need more ideas.

Hands and feet are the driest. What can I do extra for these areas?

Near bedtime do the following: Wash hands and feet well with a pH neutral soap (such as Dove®). Cover your child’s hands and feet with A+D® ointment, then place socks over the feet and cotton gloves over the hands. Have your child sleep with these garments on overnight.  


If your child is receiving radiation treatment, speak to your nurse or doctor. There are limits to what can be applied to the skin during this time. See “Do you know… Caring for your skin during radiation therapy.


If you have further questions about dry skin and how to treat it, talk to your child’s clinical nurse specialist.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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