Ichthyosis is a dry skin condition. There are 2 types:
- Inherited ichthyosis—dryness and scaling of the skin due to hereditary factors
- Acquired ichthyosis—thickening and scaling of the skin that is associated with certain medical conditions
Inherited ichthyosis is caused by a genetic defect that is passed from parent to child or that occurs on its own.
Acquired ichthyosis is relatively rare, but may be caused by:
Factors that may increase the chances of ichthyosis:
- Family member with ichthyosis
- Certain diseases such as lymphoma, sarcoidosis, AIDS, and multiple myeloma
Ichthyosis may be triggered by:
- Cold weather
- Frequent or lengthy bathing, especially in hot water
- Harsh soaps or detergents
- Soaps or lotions containing perfumes
Ichthyosis can develop on any part of the body, but most often occurs on the legs, arms, or trunk. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, the condition may be disfiguring. Symptoms may include:
- Dry, flaking skin
- Scaling of skin that gives skin the appearance of fish scales
- Shedding of layers of the skin
- Itching of skin
- In severe cases, scarring and/or infection due to rubbing and scratching of scales or blisters
Certain rare types of inherited ichthyosis are detected at birth and may be very serious, causing severe scaling on the skin all over the body.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Rarely, blood tests may be required.
Tests may be done if the diagnosis is unclear. This may include blood tests or a skin biopsy.
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Since there is no cure for ichthyosis, treatment consists of managing the symptoms. Most treatment is aimed at keeping the skin moist. In severe cases, medication may be prescribed. For the acquired form, treating the underlying condition may also help lessen the symptoms of the ichthyosis.
Many types of moisturizing ointments, lotions, and creams are used to relieve symptoms of ichthyosis. These include:
- Petroleum jelly
- Mineral oil
- Creams, lotions, and ointments containing vitamin A
- A large variety of over-the-counter, unscented moisturizers
For ichthyosis that causes scaling:
- Solutions or creams with lactic or salicylic acid or urea may help.
- In some cases, it may be advised to wrap affected areas with a plastic or cellophane bandage after applying a moisturizing agent. Such bandages should not be used on children.
In severe cases, medications are sometimes prescribed, including:
- Retinoids to unclog pores and allow other topical medications to work better
- Antibiotics to treat infection
- Calcineurin inhibitors that are applied to the skin
- Special soaps to disinfect the affected area
There are no current guidelines to prevent the development of ichthyosis. However, steps to prevent this condition from getting worse include:
- Bathing less often
- Applying unscented moisturizer regularly and frequently, especially in winter
- Using only mild soap
- Harsh soaps
- Soaps with scents or perfumes
- Skin contact with detergents
- Cold, dry weather when possible
Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types
The National Registry for Ichthyosis and Related Disorders
Canadian Dermatology Association
Ichthyosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114921/Ichthyosis. Updated March 17, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Ichthyosis. DermNet NZ website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/ichthyosis. Updated January 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Newly diagnosed? Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types website. Available at: http://www.firstskinfoundation.org/content.cfm/Ichthyosis/Newly-Diagnosed/page_id/1245. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH Last Updated: 3/6/2018