Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA
760-242-1234


James Krider, MD


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Cracked or crusted skin

From time to time, everyone develops a patch of dry, cracked skin or a crusty, flaky area. These skin problems appear most commonly in areas that are exposed to cold air or constant friction. Thus, the hands, elbows, heels, and face are frequent sites of skin cracking and crusting. A number of common allergies can also cause the skin to crack.

In a few cases, cracked, crusted skin is an early warning sign of a significant problem such as skin cancer. Persistent cracked or crusted skin should receive medical attention.

Causes of cracked or crusted skin

Allergic reactions
Allergic skin reactions have many different causes, ranging from foods and medications to exposure to poison ivy, certain metals, and other substances that provoke a reaction. Finding the specific cause often takes a great deal of time and effort. The typical symptom is an itchy rash that results in redness, oozing, and crusting.

Athlete's foot
This condition is caused by a fungus that thrives on warmth and dampness. The fungus usually invades the flesh between the toes, causing the skin to redden, crack, and ooze. Symptoms can usually be controlled by wearing cotton socks, keeping the feet clean and dry, and using medicated powders or ointments.

Chickenpox
This infectious disease, which most children catch before they reach their teens, is characterized by a red rash made up of tiny, itchy blisters that break and crust over. It is highly contagious but usually not dangerous.

Neglected athlete's foot can increase vulnerability to secondary bacterial infections, resulting in oozing, crusting and peeling skin.
Neglected athlete's foot can increase vulnerability to secondary bacterial infections, resulting in oozing, crusting and peeling skin.

Severe dermatitis can cause skin crusting and peeling.

Severe dermatitis can cause skin crusting and peeling.

Dermatitis
This term simply means inflammation of the skin, resulting in a rash that may ooze and form crusts. The most common form is contact dermatitis, caused by physical contact with a substance to which the skin is sensitive. Localized dermatitis is a chronic problem, and seasonal dermatitis appears only during the winter. In exfoliative dermatitis, widespread shedding of the skin can be life threatening.

Dry skin
Dry skin, a common consequence of aging, may crack due to lack of moisture. Other symptoms, which are generally worse in cold weather, include flaking, wrinkling, scaling, and itching. Extremely dry skin may look thin and shiny Skin dryness cannot be cured, despite the oft-repeated claims of skin-care product manufacturers.

Eczema
Eczema, which is one of the most common skin problems, is an allergic disorder that results in itching (which may be severe), small blisters, and chronic skin inflammation that leads to thickening and scaling. It most often affects children, but sometimes flares up again at a later age.

Herpes
Herpes simplex is a viral infection that is also known as cold sores or fever blisters. It usually affects only the lips and mouth, although it can spread to the eyes as well. A slightly different herpes virus is sexually transmitted, causing sores in the genital area. Both herpes viruses cause formation of tiny blisters that break, leaving painful ulcers that eventually crust over.

Impetigo
This bacterial infection affects the superficial layers of the skin, producing a red rash with many small blisters. Some of the blisters contain pus, and yellow crusts form when they break. Impetigo is most common in infants and children. Antibiotics are used to eradicate the infection.

Psoriasis
Normally, the skin is in a constant state of renewal, with dead cells being replaced by new ones. In psoriasis, this process goes awry, and new cells are produced at an abnormally rapid rate. This leads to widespread skin scaling. Affected areas become dry with itching, cracking, and crusting. In addition, the disease is often accompanied by arthritis.

Shingles
This infection is caused by reactivation of the herpes zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and then remains dormant in certain nerve cells, following the same pattern as the herpes simplex virus. The rash consists of raised, red spots that turn into clear blisters, which then dry out and crust over.

Skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, as well as the most curable. It usually begins as a small, fleshy bump in an area that has undergone frequent sun exposure. If basal cell carcinoma is not treated, the bump will bleed, crust over, and then repeat the cycle. Squamous cell carcinoma usually begins as a red, scaly patch on the skin and is also readily curable.

Advice about cracked or crusted skin

  • Take precautions against sun damage, which can cause not only dry skin and premature aging, but skin cancer as well.
  • Avoid substances that you know will precipitate an allergic skin reaction.
  • It you or a family member has impetigo, everyone should use antibacterial soap and avoid sharing towels and razors.
  • The most effective moisturizer for dry skin is petroleum jelly, applied lightly when the skin is still moist.
This article was last reviewed November 13, 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Allergic reactions, skin
Athlete's foot
Chickenpox
Contact dermatitis
Dermatitis, contact
Dermatitis, exfoliative
Dermatitis, localized
Dry skin
Eczema, chronic
Herpes
Impetigo
Poison ivy, oak, sumac
Psoriasis
Shingles
Skin cancer


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