Dry elbows are a common problem. Sometimes, dry skin on the elbows may appear gray or whitish in color (ashy).

Usually, dry skin on the elbows is nothing to worry about. You can reach for your favorite product, such as a lotion, body butter, or oil, to help ease the condition. If the dryness is excessive or it doesn’t go away, there could be an underlying condition such as eczema, psoriasis, or diabetes.

This article discusses the causes of dry elbows, some easy fixes, and when to reach out to your healthcare provider for help.

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What Causes Dry Elbows?

Dry elbows usually have common causes and improvement can be made with lifestyle adjustments. Sometimes, however, the dryness can be a sign of an underlying condition.

Symptoms of Dry Elbows

Dry elbows can cause:

  • Cracked skin
  • Chapped skin
  • Rough skin that is flaky
  • Mild or moderate itching

Some of the causes of dry elbows include:

  • Climate: Living in a dry climate or in a place where the temperatures can become very cold may cause drying of the skin, especially on the elbows.
  • Water: People who enjoy swimming tend to experience dry elbows and skin due to the chlorine in the water. Frequent showering or bathing can also be a reason for dry elbows, especially if the water is too hot.
  • Clothing: Some people are allergic to natural fibers used in clothing, including wool, cotton, silk, and linen. Man-made or synthetic materials like polyester, rubber, spandex, or rayon can also cause dryness. In addition, dyes and glues that are used in the process of making clothing can also irritate the skin.
  • Age: As people age, their skin loses elasticity and fat, and the skin becomes thinner. In addition, sweat glands and oil dry up. These skin changes are expected in older adults.
  • Smoking: Smoking is known to dry out the skin and elbows because nicotine reduces blood flow.
  • Medication: Medications such as diuretics (water pills) and retinoids (used to treat psoriasis) are also known to result in dry elbows.
  • Skincare products: Ingredients in soaps and other products can also irritate and dry out the skin.
  • Eczema: Symptoms of eczema include dry, itchy, crusting skin, and at times there are scaly leathery patches. The skin is also known to swell.
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis also causes itchy, crusting skin, but people with psoriasis develop thick scales with well-defined edges.
  • Other medical conditions: Illnesses such as diabetes and kidney disease can cause dry and itchy skin.
  • Genetics: Some skin conditions are hereditary, such as eczema and psoriasis.

3 Fixes for Dry Elbows

Managing dry elbows can be an easy task. The key is understanding the reason why the elbows are dry in the first place.

Stay Moisturized

To combat dry elbows, it is important to keep the skin moisturized.

For the best results, look for products that contain:

  • Humectants to help attract moisture. These include sorbitol, glycerin, lecithin, and hyaluronic acid.
  • Occlusives to help seal in moisture. These ingredients are lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum.
  • Emollients to keep the skin smooth by filling in the areas between the skin cells. These ingredients include lauric, linoleic, and oleic acids.

Products like shea butter, cocoa butter, mineral oil, and aloe vera can help moisturize dry elbows. Research has found that incorporating specific humectants into a topical moisturizer for dry skin is important to reduce dryness.

Pay Attention to Clothing

If your elbows become dry, flaky, or itchy after wearing certain fabrics, stop wearing them. If the dryness or itching does not improve, contact a healthcare provider.

Avoid Stress and Irritants

If your dry elbows aren’t caused by climate or exposure to water and/or chlorine, it’s important to identify the underlying cause. If you’re a smoker, quitting may be the best way to address your dry elbows. Using non-drying soaps or skincare products or simply looking for a gentler product may also help. 

It is important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for treating eczema or psoriasis if one of these conditions is causing your dry elbows. Because stress can aggravate these conditions, avoiding stressful situations may help.

If your medication is making your elbows dry and it is a concern, contact your healthcare provider to discuss other options for treatment.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

While dry elbows are generally nothing to worry about, they can become irritating and uncomfortable. Go ahead and reach out to your healthcare provider if your dry elbows do not get better with home remedies, moisturizers, or over-the-counter treatments.

You should also see your healthcare provider if:

  • Your dry elbows are very itchy
  • Your elbows crack or bleed
  • The skin becomes inflamed or painful
  • You develop a rash

Although uncommon, dry and cracked elbows can become infected. Call your healthcare provider if you develop any signs of infection, including:

  • Pus or fluid leaking from the cracked skin
  • Increasingly red, warm skin
  • Yellowish crust on the broken skin
  • Sores that look like blisters
  • Increasing pain
  • Fever

Summary

Dry elbows are common. If you have lifestyle habits that cause dry elbows, try to change them or get a product that provides proper moisture for your skin and elbows.

See your healthcare provider if your elbows are very dry and itchy, if they crack or bleed, or if they show signs of infection.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Yvelette Stines

Yvelette Stines, MS, MEd, is an author, writer, and communications specialist specializing in health and wellness.

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