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Scales

Scales are a visible peeling or flaking of outer skin layers. These layers are called the stratum corneum.

Causes

Scales may be caused by dry skin, certain inflammatory skin conditions, or infections.

Examples of disorders that can cause scales include:

Home Care

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.

Alternative Names

Skin flaking; Scaly skin; Papulosquamous disorders

References

Marks JG, Miller JJ. Scaling papules, plaques, and patches. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 9.

Swartz MH. The skin. In: Swartz MH, ed. Textbook of Physical Diagnosis: History and Examination. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 5.

Review Date 4/14/2017

Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.