The hallmarks of dry skin (xerosis) are scaliness and loss of elasticity. Decreased hydration and a disturbed lipid content of the stratum corneum are also well-known features. The frequency of dry skin increases with ageing. The aim of this study was to examine if these known features of dry skin are related to changes in epidermal proliferation and differentiation. In addition, age-related changes in normal and in dry skin were examined: 62 volunteers were divided by clinical grading and biophysical measurements into groups with young/normal, young/dry, aged/normal and aged/dry skin. Biopsy samples from the lower legs (most severe dryness) were examined by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and by immunohistochemistry for epidermal proliferation, epidermal keratins and cornified envelope proteins. There was a slight increase in proliferation in both groups with dry skin compared with normal skin of the corresponding age. In aged/normal compared with young/normal skin there was a significant decrease in proliferation. However, epidermal proliferation was the same in aged/dry skin as in young/normal skin. For epidermal differentiation, an age-independent decrease of keratins K1 and K10 and an associated increase in the basal keratins K5 and K14 was detected in dry skin. There was also an age-independent premature expression of the cornified envelope protein involucrin. In contrast, loricrin expression was not influenced by dry skin conditions. In summary, epidermal proliferation was significantly decreased in aged/normal compared with young/normal skin. Dry skin showed significant changes in the epidermal expression of basal and differentiation-related keratins, and a premature expression of involucrin irrespective of age.