Scales are a visible peeling or flaking of outer skin layers. These layers are called the stratum corneum.
Scales may be caused by dry skin, certain inflammatory skin conditions, or infections.
Examples of disorders that can cause scales include:
- Fungal infections such as ringworm, tinea versicolor
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Pityriasis rosea
- Discoid lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disorder
- Genetic skin disorders called ichthyoses
If your health care provider diagnoses you with dry skin, you'll likely be recommended the following self-care measures:
- Moisturize your skin with an ointment, cream, or lotion 2 to 3 times a day, or as often as needed.
- Moisturizers help lock in moisture, so they work best on damp skin. After you bathe, pat skin dry then apply your moisturizer.
- Bathe only once a day. Take short, warm baths or showers. Limit your time to 5 to 10 minutes. Avoid taking hot baths or showers.
- Instead of regular soap, try using gentle skin cleansers or soap with added moisturizers.
- Avoid scrubbing your skin.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Try over-the-counter cortisone creams or lotions if your skin is inflamed.
If your provider diagnoses you with a skin disorder, such as an inflammatory or fungal disease, follow instructions on home care. This may include using a medicine on your skin. You may also need to take a medicine by mouth.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if your skin symptoms continue and self-care measures aren't helping.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will perform a physical exam to look closely at your skin. You may be asked questions such as when the scaling began, what other symptoms you have, and any self-care you've done at home.
You may need blood tests to check for other conditions.
Treatment depends on the cause of your skin problem. You may need to apply medicine to the skin, or take medicine by mouth.
Skin flaking; Scaly skin; Papulosquamous disorders; Ichthyosis
Dinulos JGH. Psoriasis and other papulosquamous diseases. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 8.
Marks JG, Miller JJ. Scaling papules, plaques, and patches. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 9.
Review Date 6/19/2021
Updated by: Ramin Fathi, MD, FAAD, Director, Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, Phoenix, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.