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What Causes Rough, Dry Skin Patches

Rough bumpy skin can appear on the face and body, including dry, scaly skin on the legs, bumpy patches on the backs of the arms and thighs, and rough skin on the face and neck (often due to shaving). One way to help smooth and soften skin texture is with skincare products that help provide hydration. Additional ingredients that help soothe the skin, restore the skin’s barrier (such as ceramides) and provide gentle exfoliation (such as salicylic acid and lactic acid) can be helpful as well. Rough bumpy skin can affect men and women of all ages and may be the result of excessive dryness1 or a skin condition such as eczema2, psoriasis3or diabetes.4

What to avoid when you have rough skin1

  • Hot, long showers
  • Harsh soaps
  • Vigorous scrubbing and over-exfoliation
  • Friction caused by tight clothing
  • Scratchy fabrics

Why is my skin rough?

Skin that feels rough to the touch, especially on the hands and feet is often caused by dryness and a build-up of dead skin cells. The skin naturally renews itself; however, this process can slow down with age.5 Certain skin conditions can also accelerate the accumulation of dead cells and lead to rough bumpy skin. In most cases, using a specially-formulated rough and bumpy skin lotion daily can help restore smooth, soft skin.

Rough skin by location

Face: If facial moisturizer doesn’t help improve dry rough patches on skin in spots like around the nose and eyebrows as well as on the hairline, ears and neck, a skin condition may be to blame. Persistent, irritated rough skin with thick scales may be due to psoriasis,2 while red, rough skin on the cheeks may be caused eczema.2

Hands: Rough hands are usually caused by dry skin. The hands are especially prone to dryness because they have fewer oil glands5 and are exposed to a variety of harsh environmental factors. Frequent hand-washing, contact with chemicals and extreme weather conditions all deplete moisture from the skin and can lead to rough skin.7

Feet: Similar to the hands, the feet have a limited number of oil glands—which means this skin can become thick and dry.4 Rough skin on feet can be accompanied by calluses due to friction caused by wearing shoes, and cracked heels that result from the feet supporting the body’s weight.

Arms: There can be several causes of rough skin on arms, including dry skin,4 eczema,3 psoriasis,2keratosis pilaris8 and sun exposure.9

Elbows: Rough bumpy skin due to dryness is common on the elbows, although redness covered with white rough patches on skin of the elbows may be psoriasis.10 Red rough patches on skin inside the elbows can be caused by eczema.3

Neck: Frequently seen in men who shave regularly, rough skin on the neck may be due to folliculitis,11 razor burn or ingrown hairs.

Stubborn patches of bumpy skin that don’t respond to moisturizers and gentle exfoliation may be due to a condition called ichthyosis vulgaris, which prevents dead skin cells from shedding and causes an accumulation that resembles fish scales, or another skin condition.12 If at-home care doesn’t help improve the look and feel of rough, bumpy skin, it’s best to see a dermatologist who may recommend additional treatments.

What the color of your rough skin patches means

The color of rough skin can be an indicator of its cause. Here’s the most common factors that lead to discoloration.

  • Red: Red rough patches on skin areas such as the inside of the elbow, backs of the knees or other parts of the body may be due to eczema.3 Rough bumpy skin on the backs of the arms or thighs is often keratosis pilaris.13
  • White: White, rough skin on the knees and elbows is usually caused by dryness. When seen on the elbows, knees, face or elsewhere, red skin covered with white scales may indicate psoriasis.2
  • Brown: A dark rough patch on skin on the face, arms or legs may be an actinic keratosis, which is a caused by sun damage.14
  • Any unusual areas of rough skin that do not respond to moisturizer should be seen by a dermatologist who can diagnose the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Treatment & Skin Care Routine for Rough, Dry Skin

Dry skin is a primary cause of rough spots, and skincare products that moisturize and provide gentle exfoliation can be an effective way to help smooth and soften rough bumpy skin associated with dryness. Hyaluronic acid is a beneficial hydrating ingredient because it helps draw moisture from the environment into the skin.15 In addition, lotions and creams with ceramides help restore the skin’s barrier to lock in moisture.16 Salicylic acid and lactic acid exfoliate the skin by encouraging the shedding of dead skin cells, in turn helping to improve the texture of rough bumpy skin.17, 18 Finally, skincare products formulated with a soothing ingredient like niacinamide can help keep the skin comfortable.19

If exfoliating and hydrating skincare products don’t help improve the appearance of dry, rough bumpy skin, or you think your rough skin may be a symptom of another skin condition, it’s best to seek the help of a dermatologist who can diagnose the cause and suggest additional treatment options.

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