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What Causes Dry Elbows?

By Melissa Barrett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are hundreds of medical conditions, drug side effects, and vitamin deficiencies that can ultimately lead to dry skin, and the elbows can be affected by most of these. In addition, there are several medical conditions that are specific to the skin and present with dry skin as a symptom. Environmental factors such as lack of humidity, exposure to chemicals, and irritating clothing can also cause dry elbows.

Skin moisture can be affected by many illnesses. Hormonal changes from pregnancy, menopause, and many thyroid conditions can wreak havoc on the skin. Diabetes, especially when associated with kidney dysfunction, often dries the skin. Even temporary conditions such as sun stroke and diarrhea can cause skin dryness that often outlasts the original conditions by weeks or even months.

Medications are common causes of skin problems too. For example, many commonly prescribed antidepressants may cause dry skin. In addition, diuretic herbs and medications, including caffeine, often dehydrate the skin. Ironically, many people find that the same topical ointments used to treat the itching associated with dry elbows actually causes the skin to become drier.

Those suffering from malnutrition often have dry skin as a symptom. When there is a deficiency, those vitamins and minerals that help the skin produce natural oils are reserved for the vital functions of the body. Vitamin A, riboflavin, and iron in particular affect skin health, and even mild deficiencies can dramatically affect the skin’s moisture.

Skin disorders often cause dry elbows. Psoriasis and eczema may cause dry, scaly patches that are often worse on joints and other areas of the body with skin folds. Ichthyosis, a rare skin disorder that causes withered, cracked skin, can also be more severe on the elbows. In addition, fungal infections feed off skin oils and can appear anywhere on the body, including the elbows.

The most common causes of dry elbows are environmental in nature. Home heating and cooling systems often draw the moisture out of the air and consequently a person’s skin. The problem could be especially bad in winter as cold air is often dryer than warm air. In addition, the material of sweaters and long-sleeve shirts can rub against the elbows, removing the natural oils and irritating the skin.

Certain ingredients in cleaning and personal care products can also remove natural oils from the skin. Household cleansers containing degreasing agents, including many dish-washing liquids, make no distinction between environmental grease and skin oils. Elbows are often exposed to these products in the natural course of daily household chores. In addition, soaps and body washes that contain alcohol can dry elbows quickly.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon995077 — On Mar 30, 2016

Baby oil helps.

By serenesurface — On Aug 28, 2013

@donasmrs-- I don't have psoriasis, I have ichthyosis but I think some of our symptoms are the same. My skin is also dry, cracked, dark and scaly. And just like you, it's worse around my joints.

One thing I've found that helps is exfoliation and I do this with coarse brown sugar. You can also use an exfoliating skin scrub with corn meal or salt in it. Exfoliating helps get rid of the coarseness and makes my skin soft.

I do follow up with moisturizer though, otherwise my skin will be more dry. I don't know if you can do this for the treatment of your psoriasis, but it might be worth a try.

By donasmrs — On Aug 28, 2013

I have psoriasis disease. It affects my knees elbows the worst. My knees and elbows are extremely dry and scaly. The only thing that helps is applying a ton of moisturizer, like glycerin, on my elbows and wrapping it overnight.

Does anyone else here have psoriasis? Have you found anything that helps?

By literally45 — On Aug 27, 2013

I have dry elbows but I think it's just because I forget to apply lotion there. I have dry skin in general and have to use body lotion regularly. For some reason, I always forget to apply lotion to my elbows. That's why they're usually very dry, white and patchy.

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