Dry skin is a minor condition, which shows as hard or flaky skin, and is simply due to lack of moisture in the upper skin layers.


Psoriasis is a rather more serious condition and is caused by the skin “overgrowing” – giving itself layers it does not need, which causes irritation – large red, sometimes scaly areas are the result.


Eczema and dermatitis mean much the same thing, except that dermatitis is caused by something external, while eczema is an allergic condition that does not need an outside substance to trigger it. The rash of eczema/dermatitis typically has dry flaky skin that may be inflamed and may include small red spots. The skin may be cracked and weepy and is sometimes thickened.


  • The rash occurs in infants in the nappy area, neck, back of scalp, face and back of wrists.
  • The rash occurs in children behind the knees on the inside of the elbow, around wrists, ankles, hands and eyes.
  • The rash occurs in adults on the neck, back of hands, groin, around the anus, the ankles and the feet.

Substances irritating the skin cause contact dermatitis and these must be identified in order to effectively treat the condition. Common allergenic substances include; alkaline cleansers, degreasing agents, solvents, oil, oxidisers, and reducers (i.e., hairdressing chemicals). Contact dermatitis may also be caused by contact with cement, rust, costume jewellery (frequently from the nickel content), rubber, resins, dyes, certain plants, eye make-up, perfume, etc.


Cradle cap is simply a mild eczema of the scalp in babies, and the same condition in adults may give rise to dandruff


The first thing to establish is whether the problem is dermatitis or eczema. Dermatitis will be due to contact with an irritant substance (see above) and this must be removed or protected against or the problem will recur. Clues can be got from; the site of the rash, type of job and hobbies, onset of rash and agents handled and whether you experience any improvement or worsening when at work or on holiday.


A large number of eczema sufferers will also complain of the symptoms of hay fever, or sometimes asthma. Family history of these conditions may be important if diagnosing eczema – these sufferers will be worse during the hay fever season, and even on contact with house dust or animals. Substances that dry the skin – soaps, detergents, and cold winds, also worsen eczema. Certain foods may also cause eczema (as seen with 1 in 20 patients) – e.g. cow’s milk (especially in infants), eggs and food colourings. Stress and worrying can also bring on and worsen eczema.


Dermatitis may be made worse by topical medications already used, especially those containing the additives Lanolin or Parabens, and so you should be aware of these even if they are cosmetic rather than medicinal products.


If you have consulted the doctor, what advice were you given, did you do as you were advised and was it successful? You should take a note of anything that improved your condition and also of failed attempts. If you have tried medication for the treatment of your condition before tell your pharmacist.


Remember, the best thing you can do for eczema or dermatitis is to identify the cause of your condition if possible. Then remove the cause or protect yourself from it.  There are certain products that are excellent for the cleansing and moisturising of an affected area that will ease if not entirely cure the problem. These preparations are manufactured using hypo-allergenic ingredients and are free from colours, perfumes and soap. You should speak with a healthcare advisor at your local pharmacy if you are suffering from irritated skin and they will help you select suitable preparations.


Apart from the above, once you have removed an identifiable cause of Dermatitis, the skin will need something to remove the itch as it settles over a few days. Hydrocortisone 1% cream is usually the best treatment for irritant or contact dermatitis. This cream should be applied sparingly twice daily until the skin clears. An antihistamine tablet such as ZIRTEK should also be taken when the itch is particularly troublesome.


Dry skin occurs frequently on the scalp in both babies and adults. In adults, it can cling together to form dandruff – white specks of dry skin in the hair, while in babies it occurs as Cradle cap, a light coating of flaky skin under the hair.


Dandruff is best treated with a coal tar based shampoo such as Polytaror else Nizoral shampoo which does not contain coal tar. Both preparations are used twice weekly until the condition subsides. At this stage, once weekly treatment will be enough to keep the condition at bay.


More problematic dry scalp can be treated with Capasal Shampoo. In addition to coal tar, this shampoo contains a mild acid which helps dissolve away flakes and scales, and coconut oil which helps to reduce scalp dryness.


Cradle cap is best treated with olive oil to lubricate the scalp and soften the scales, and a soft nail brush to mechanically dislodge the scales.


Psoriasis should usually be treated under a doctor’s supervision. However, the mainstay of treatment is copious use of moisturisers such as the Elave range. The regular use of moisturisers is absolutely vital, even if a prescribed treatment is also being used.