Dry elbows is a common skin condition with several causes. Many cases of dry elbow can be due to changes in climate, lack of hydration, or irritation from fabrics or lotions.
In some cases, dry elbows may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as psoriasis, eczema, diabetes, or thyroid issues.
Here we look at symptoms, causes, treatment options, and when to see a doctor.
Dry elbows can make the skin on and around the elbow appear:
- sore or uncomfortable
- cracked or bleeding
These symptoms may worsen in certain conditions, such as hot, dry, or cold weather.
Dry skin on the elbows occurs from a lack of moisture. It can also develop from a decrease in sweat and oil glands. As people age, they tend to lose more sweat and oil glands, which results in dryer skin around the body.
Common factors that can cause dry skin on the elbows include:
- Chlorine: If people swim frequently, the chlorine in pools can dry out the skin. This can also happen to those who bathe or swim for prolonged times and do not moisturize afterward.
- Hot baths and showers: Hot water can strip the skin of essential oils, and cause dryness, especially if people take long, hot baths or showers.
- Cool, dry, or hot weather: Climate or weather can play a big part in dry skin. If people regularly expose their elbows to cold, dry, or hot weather, they can easily lose moisture.
- Dehydration: A lack of hydration in the body can cause dry skin, as the body prioritizes water to other parts of the body. A person who drinks alcohol or excessively sweats may also contribute to dehydration, especially if they do not replace lost fluids.
- Smoking: Chemicals in cigarettes reduce oxygen supply to the skin and speed up skin aging, which can result in dry, coarse skin.
- Friction: Friction from tight clothes may irritate and dry the elbows. A person who rests on hard surfaces can also make elbows dryer and rougher, due to the friction that rubs or irritates the skin.
- Lack of humidity: Dry elbows may worsen in the winter, due to cold weather, while heat dries out the skin. Air conditioning or dry weather in the summer can also do this.
- Certain medications: People who take some drugs, such as diuretics, retinoids, or types of vitamin A, may dry out their skin.
- Contact dermatitis: If a substance irritates the skin, or provokes an allergic reaction, it can cause dry, irritated skin.
People may help reduce the symptoms of dry elbows with the following:
- avoiding fabrics or detergents that can irritate the skin
- wearing protective clothing in the sun, wind, or cold
- using gentle, fragrance-free wash products
- moisturizing regularly, especially after a swim, bath or shower
- using a body wash with added moisturizers
- using a formulated moisturizer to treat a specific skin condition, such as eczema
- using elbow pads if a person rests on hard surfaces for a long time
- avoiding harsh exfoliant products which could irritate the skin or cause further dryness
- wearing clothes not made from rough fabrics
If a person thinks medication might be responsible for their dry elbows, they can speak to a doctor. A healthcare professional may alter the treatment to reduce side effects, or suggest ways to avoid temporary dryness.
If an underlying condition is responsible for dry elbows, a person can see their doctor, who can diagnose the issue, and suggest a treatment.
Several health conditions can cause dry skin on the elbow. These include:
Eczema is a skin condition that can cause dry, itchy skin, anywhere on the body, including the elbow. Other symptoms include:
- inflamed, sensitive skin
- darker patches of skin
- tough or scaly areas of skin
Psoriasis is a skin condition that can affect any part of the body, but it usually appears on the elbows, knees, or scalp.
Psoriasis symptoms include:
- raised patches or plaques on the skin
- a burning or stinging sensation
- lesions or pustules
- flaking skin
Thyroid conditions can disrupt the skin’s normal function. This can lead to dry skin on the elbows and other areas of the body. People may have scaly skin that cracks, or feels tough and waxy.
Other symptoms of thyroid conditions can include:
- thinning hair
- an itchy scalp and dandruff
- brittle or crumbly nails
- protruding eyes
Other signs of diabetes that appear on the skin include:
- patches that feel velvety, and are darker than the surrounding skin
- thick, waxy patches on the fingers, toes, and other areas of the body
- slow-healing wounds, particularly on the feet
Other symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include:
- dry eyes, nose, and mouth
- difficulty with memory or concentration
- numbness or tingling in fingers and toes
- gastrointestinal issues
People can help treat dry elbows with home remedies, moisturizers, and over-the-counter treatments. They should see a doctor if their elbows do not respond to treatment, or if symptoms get worse, such as:
- open cracks and bleeding
- sore or swollen skin
- signs of an infection
- a severe allergic reaction
If people have any additional symptoms alongside dry elbows, they can see a doctor who can check for underlying health conditions.
Healthcare professionals may refer to dry skin as xerosis. To find the cause of dry elbows, they may take a full medical history and carry out a physical examination. Blood tests can also help the diagnosis process.
People may have dry elbows for a variety of reasons, which are not usually serious. Treatments are often simple, though people may need to maintain them to prevent recurring dryness.
Those who swim frequently, or live in hot, dry climates may need to take extra care to protect their elbows from dryness.
If people have severe symptoms, or their dry elbows do not respond to home treatments, it may indicate an underlying condition. Once people begin to treat this issue, their symptoms may start to ease.
Dry skin is a common condition, and the elbows can be prone to dryness. Dehydration, smoking, cold weather, and some laundry detergents can all cause dry elbows.
A person who hydrates well, avoids irritating substances, and moisturizes regularly, help treat dry elbows.
In some cases, dry elbows may indicate an underlying condition. If people notice other symptoms alongside dry elbows, they can see their doctor for a check-up.