How Can I Get Relief From My Dry Skin?

Dry skin in a person with atopic eczema can be successfully treated with the use of the soak and smear technique.. © ADAM

How Can I Get Relief From My Dry Skin?

Dry skin plagues people of all ages, but is particularly common in older people. Dry, irritated, itchy skin characterizes a number of skin diseases that are collectively referred to as eczema. Xerotic eczema (xerosis), also known as the winter itch, occurs most often during the dry, cold winter months, as a result of repeated wetting and drying without the use of moisturizing.

Symptoms include dry, itchy, flaky, red skin, with painful cracking on the hands and feet.

Many people with dry skin have a difficult time finding relief. Various skin treatments, including over-the-counter moisturizers and prescription topical corticosteroid creams, may not be effective for the treatment of xerotic eczema. Dermatologists have long known the secret to treating dry skin, using a technique called soak and smear (also known as soak and slather). This technique involves nightly soaking in a warm plain water bath followed immediately by the application of a topical corticosteroid ointment to moist skin for a 2-week period of time. Skin care is then maintained with the use of a daily moisturizer after bathing.

The soak and smear technique is recommended to treat dry skin and itching caused by a variety of conditions, including atopic and xerotic eczema. This technique allows for the use of less potent topical corticosteroids (and thus fewer side effects), and provides much-needed relief within a few days’ time.

Once the dry skin is controlled, symptom control is maintained with the use of a daily moisturizer after bathing. If the dry skin returns, the soak and slather technique can be repeated, with relief returning within a few days.

The Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine provides this instructional handout explaining the use of a soak and smear technique for the treatment of eczema.

Learn all about the diagnosis and treatment of common skin allergies.


Gutman AB, Klingman AM, Sciacca J, James WD. Soak and Smear: A Standard Technique Revisited. Arch Dermatol. 2005;141:1556-9.

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