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Overview

If you deal with dry skin, you’re likely no stranger to ashy-looking, rough patches—especially around your knees and elbows. You may even moisturize these areas daily with little to no improvement. So, what causes those frustrating dry patches on your knees and elbows, and what can you do to improve their appearance? In this skincare guide, we’ll be breaking down some possible causes of dry knees and elbows and explaining why moisturizer on its own may not always be enough to address this skin concern. Read on to discover the skincare practices, product recommendations, and skincare tips that can help you improve the appearance of scaly, flaky elbows and knees.

Facts About Dry Skin on the Knees and Elbows

  • Fact #1: The knees and elbows are two common places where people can experience dryness and rough skin texture.
  • Fact #2: Rough, dry patches on the knees and elbows can be caused by both internal and external factors, such as genetics, age, dry climates, and improper skincare.
  • Fact #3: When the outer layer of your skin thickens, it’s sometimes referred to as hyperkeratosis. This skin condition can occur anywhere on the body (including the knees and elbows) and is often the result of friction or the use of harsh soaps.
  • Fact #4: Dry patches on the knees and elbows can usually be managed at home with a gentle yet effective skincare routine that includes regularly using moisturizers (such as creams, lotion, and ointments).

Understanding Dry Skin on the Knees and Elbows

If you look at your elbows and knees, you’ll probably notice that the skin in this area has some visible differences when compared to the rest of your body. For starters, the skin on your elbows and knees generally looks and feels thicker with more visible lines and folds—and there’s a good reason for this.

 

This skin is designed to constantly bend and stretch as your joints in these areas move with you throughout the day. Your knees and elbows also rub against your clothing all day long, which can cause friction. That’s why the skin there is thicker—it’s designed to withstand all of this movement and friction.

 

Why Do I Have Rough Skin on My Knees and Elbows?

There are several factors that can contribute to dry, rough patches on your elbows and knees. Some of these dry skin triggers are within your control (such as your daily skincare routine), while others may be tied to internal factors (such as genetics). Here are a few causes of rough, dry elbows and knees:

 

  • Low Humidity: Dry air can make it harder for your skin to retain moisture, which could contribute to dry, flaky, or itchy skin.
  • Cold Temperatures: Harsh winter weather, including cold temperatures and windy air, may worsen dryness.
  • Age: As you age, your skin’s ability to hold on to moisture naturally diminishes, which can lead to drier skin all over the body.
  • Genetics: Some people are more likely to experience dry skin due to a genetic predisposition or a dry skin condition (such as eczema).
  • Dead Skin Cell Buildup: When dead skin cells build up on the skin’s surface, it can cause the skin to have a rough, uneven texture and an ashy, flaky appearance.
  • Skin Barrier Disruption: If your skin’s natural moisture barrier isn’t functioning properly, it may not retain moisture as well (this is known as transepidermal water loss, or TEWL).

 

8 Tips for Rough Patches on the Knees and Elbows

One of the best ways to help soften dry skin on your elbows and knees is with a well-rounded skincare regimen that considers the causes of your dryness. The right routine can help you prevent dry patches by reducing TEWL, while simultaneously softening existing rough spots. Read on for a breakdown of the steps you can follow to help improve the appearance of rough elbows and knees.

 

1. Choose a body moisturizer with humectants

Humectants are a type of moisturizing ingredient that helps attract moisture to your skin’s surface. We recommend looking for body moisturizers that contain proven humectant ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, panthenol, and glycerin. One body moisturizer to consider adding to your dry skin routine is CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. Formulated with ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid, this moisturizing cream is designed to help restore the look and feel of smooth, supple, and healthy-looking skin.

 

2. Reapply moisturizer as needed

Moisturizing is an essential step in any body care routine—especially if you have dry skin. Applying moisturizers daily can improve skin hydration and help minimize water loss. Some moisturizers can also help smooth and soften your skin and help maintain your skin’s protective barrier. And if you want to get the most out of your body moisturizer, it’s important to apply it regularly.

 

For dry elbow skin and rough knees with dry kneecaps, it may be helpful to reapply body moisturizer a few times per day (especially during the cold, dry winter months). CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion is one fragrance-free, non-greasy option that can be applied as needed. Developed with dermatologists, this moisturizer formula is gentle on your skin, provides 24-hour hydration, and helps restore your skin’s protective barrier.

 

3. Apply an occlusive ointment at night

After applying body lotion or cream in the evening, try layering on an occlusive ointment to help seal in moisture (this technique is known as “slugging”). Ointments are generally considered to be the richest moisturizer option, which is why they can be a good match for very thick, dry skin on the knees and elbows.

 

We suggest trying CeraVe Healing Ointment for your nighttime slugging routine. This ointment makes an excellent dry spot treatment for rough, flaky knees and elbows. It has a lightweight, non-comedogenic formula with three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and petrolatum—the latter of which is a moisturizing ingredient that’s often considered to be the “gold standard” of occlusives. It works as a skin protectant and creates a barrier on top of your skin that helps minimize water loss.

 

4. Wear protective clothing during the winter months

Exposure to dry, cold, or windy weather conditions can make your knees and elbows more vulnerable to dryness and potentially worsen rough patches. So, if you struggle with dry patches on your knees and elbows, it’s important to wear protective clothing when heading outdoors. If your skin is itchy, irritated, or uncomfortable, you may also want to take a closer look at the fabrics you’re wearing to ensure that they’re soft, breathable, and aren’t irritating your skin.

 

5. Don’t forget to apply (and reapply) sunscreen

The elbows and knees are two spots that some people may neglect when applying sunscreen. But a dedicated sun protection routine may help protect your skin from rough patches and dryness—not to mention sun damage. To help properly care for your knees and elbows, we recommend applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day, 365 days per year (and reapplying at least every two hours).

 

As mentioned above, it’s also essential to wear protective clothing, in addition to taking other protective measures (like seeking shade during peak hours). One sunscreen option to consider is CeraVe Hydrating Sheer Sunscreen. This broad-spectrum hybrid sunscreen formula with SPF 30 combines mineral and chemical sun filters to help effectively reflect and absorb the sun’s damaging rays.

 

6. Reassess your cleansing habits

Certain bathing habits, such as taking long, hot showers and using harsh cleansers, can also contribute to dryness. If you have dry skin, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends bathing with warm (not hot) water, limiting showers to 10 minutes or less, and using a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser.1 It’s also recommended to apply body moisturizer to slightly damp skin as soon as you get out of the shower, as this can help effectively seal in moisture.

 

7. Treat dry knees and elbows with care

Try to avoid harsh scrubbing, rubbing, or pulling, and apply skincare products gently, per the instructions on the label (or as directed by your dermatologist). Although it can be tempting to over-exfoliate dry patches with a body scrub, this may irritate your skin and disrupt your skin barrier, potentially making matters worse. Instead, we recommend sticking to a gentle moisturizing routine that includes beneficial ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides.

 

8. Try a gentle exfoliating moisturizer on rough, thick skin

A gentle exfoliant with lactic acid or salicylic acid is one way to help reduce the appearance of rough, thick patches of skin on the body. One exfoliating moisturizer to consider is CeraVe SA Cream, which is formulated with salicylic acid, lactic acid, and ceramides. This moisturizing cream gently exfoliates dead skin cells to help improve skin texture and soften very dry, rough skin. If you prefer a lightweight lotion texture, you can also try CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin to help smooth and soften dry skin on your knees, elbows, and other problem areas.

 

Note: Dry skin that’s persistent, painful, or interferes with your day-to-day life can sometimes be associated with an underlying condition. If you suspect that your dry skin may be linked to an illness or underlying skin condition, or it does not resolve with these easy steps, consult your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist.

 

For help choosing the right products for your specific skin type and skin concerns, use our Find My Skincare Solution tool.

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