What is ichthyosis vulgaris?
Ichthyosis vulgaris is an inherited or acquired skin condition that occurs when the skin doesn’t shed its dead skin cells. This causes dry, dead skin cells to accumulate in patches on the surface of the skin. It’s also known as “fish scale disease” because the dead skin accumulates in a similar pattern to a fish’s scales.
The majority of cases are mild and confined to specific areas of the body. However, some cases are severe and cover large areas of the body, including the abdomen, back, arms, and legs.
How common is ichthyosis vulgaris?
Ichthyosis vulgaris is a fairly common disorder. Males and females are affected in equal numbers. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris?
The common symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris are:
- Dry, scaly skin
- Tile-like, small scales
- Scales colored white, dirty gray or brown — with darker-colored scales typically on darker skin
- Flaky scalp
- Deep, painful cracks in your skin
The scales usually appear on your elbows and lower legs and may be especially thick and dark over your shins. Most cases of ichthyosis vulgaris are mild, but some can be severe. The severity of symptoms may vary widely among family members who have the condition.
Symptoms usually worsen or are more pronounced in cold, dry environments and tend to improve or even resolve in warm, humid environments.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes ichthyosis vulgaris?
Ichthyosis vulgaris is commonly caused by a genetic mutation that’s inherited from one or both parents. Children who inherit a defective gene from just one parent have a milder form of the disease. Those who inherit two defective genes have a more severe form of ichthyosis vulgaris. Children with the inherited form of the disorder usually have normal skin at birth, but develop scaling and roughness during the first few years of life.
If genetic abnormalities aren’t responsible for ichthyosis, it’s referred to as acquired ichthyosis. It’s usually associated with other diseases, such as cancer, thyroid disease or HIV/AIDS.
What increases my risk for ichthyosis vulgaris?
A family history of ichthyosis vulgaris may increase your risk of this condition.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is ichthyosis vulgaris diagnosed?
A doctor specializing in skin disorders, called a dermatologist, can typically diagnose ichthyosis vulgaris by sight.
Your doctor will ask you about any family history of skin diseases, the age you first experienced symptoms, and whether you have any other skin disorders.
Your doctor will also record where the patches of dry skin appear. This will help your doctor track the effectiveness of your treatment.
Your doctor may also perform other tests, such as a blood test or skin biopsy. This will rule out other skin conditions, such as psoriasis, that cause similar symptoms. A skin biopsy involves removing a small section of the affected skin for examination under a microscope.
How is ichthyosis vulgaris treated?
Ichthyosis vulgaris doesn’t have a known cure, so the goal of treatment is to manage the condition.
Treatments may include:
- Exfoliating creams and ointments. Prescription creams and ointments containing alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid and glycolic acid, help control scaling and increase skin moisture.
- Oral medication. Your doctor may prescribe vitamin A-derived medications called retinoids to reduce the production of skin cells. Side effects from the medication may include eye and lip inflammation, bone spurs and hair loss.
Retinoids may cause birth defects. Women considering retinoid therapy should be sure they are not pregnant before starting the medication — and use effective birth control while taking retinoids.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ichthyosis vulgaris?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with ichthyosis vulgaris:
- Take long soaking baths to soften the skin. Use mild soap. Rub dampened skin lightly with a rough-textured sponge (loofa) or a pumice stone to help remove the scales.
- After showering or bathing, gently pat or blot the skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains on the skin.
- Apply moisturizer or lubricating cream while the skin is still moist from bathing. Choose a moisturizer with urea or propylene glycol — chemicals that help keep skin moist. Petroleum jelly is another good choice.
- Apply an over-the-counter product that contains urea, lactic acid or a low concentration of salicylic acid twice daily. Mild acidic compounds help skin shed its dead skin cells. Urea helps bind moisture to skin.
- Use a portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace to add moisture to the air inside your home.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: August 24, 2018 | Last Modified: November 29, 2019
Ichthyosis vulgaris. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ichthyosis-vulgaris/symptoms-causes/syc-20373754. Accessed August 7, 2018.
Ichthyosis Vulgaris. https://www.healthline.com/health/ichthyosis-vulgaris#treatment. Accessed August 7, 2018.
Ichthyosis Vulgaris. https://www.dovemed.com/diseases-conditions/ichthyosis-vulgaris/. Accessed August 7, 2018.