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Ichthyosis vulgaris

Ichthyosis vulgaris is a skin disorder passed down through families that leads to dry, scaly skin.

Causes

Ichthyosis vulgaris is one of the most common of the inherited skin disorders. It may begin in early childhood. The condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. That means if you have the condition, your child has a 50% chance of getting the gene from you.

The condition is often more noticeable in the winter. It may occur along with other skin problems including atopic dermatitis, asthma, keratosis pilaris (small bumps on the back of the arms and legs), or other skin disorders.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Dry skin, severe
  • Scaly skin (scales)
  • Possible skin thickening
  • Mild itching of the skin

The dry, scaly skin is usually most severe on the legs. But it can also involve the arms, hands, and middle of the body. People with this condition may also have many fine lines on the palms.

In infants, the skin changes usually appear in the first year of life. Early on, the skin is only slightly rough, but by the time a baby is about 3 months old, they begin appearing on the shins and back of the arms.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider can usually diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of dry, scaly skin.

Your provider will ask if you have a family history of similar skin dryness.

A skin biopsy may be performed.

Treatment

Your provider may ask you to use heavy-duty moisturizers. Creams and ointments work better than lotions. Apply these to moist skin immediately after bathing. You should use mild, non-drying soaps.

Your provider may tell you to use hydrating-moisturizing creams that contain keratolytic chemicals such as lactic acid, salicylic acid, and urea. These chemicals help skin shed normally while retaining moisture.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Ichthyosis vulgaris can be bothersome, but it rarely affects your overall health. The condition usually disappears during adulthood, but may return years later as people age.

Possible Complications

A bacterial skin infection may develop if scratching causes openings in the skin.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if:

  • Symptoms continue despite treatment
  • Symptoms get worse
  • Skin lesions spread
  • New symptoms develop

Alternative Names

Common ichthyosis

References

American Academy of Dermatology. Ichthyosis vulgaris. AAD.org Web site. www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/ichthyosis-vulgaris#symptoms. Accessed May 11, 2017.

Martin KL. Disorders of keratinization. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 658.

Newsham J, Farquharson NR, Clayton TH. Ichthyoses. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 107.

Patterson JW. Disorders of epidermal maturation and keratinization. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2016:chap 9.

Review Date 5/2/2017

Updated by: David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.