What is ichthyosis vulgaris?
Ichthyosis vulgaris is an inherited skin condition that occurs
when your skin doesn’t shed its dead skin cells. This causes dry, dead skin
cells to accumulate in patches on the surface of your 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.
of ichthyosis vulgaris
Symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris include:
- flaky scalp
- itchy skin
- polygon-shaped scales on the
- scales that are brown, gray,
- severely dry skin
- thickened skin
Symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris are typically worse in
winter, when the air is colder and dryer. The patches of dry skin typically
appear on the elbows and lower legs, most often affecting the shins in thick,
dark segments. In severe cases, ichthyosis vulgaris may also cause deep,
painful cracks to develop on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands.
What causes ichthyosis
Ichthyosis vulgaris may be present at birth or appear in the
first few years of a child’s life, but it typically disappears during early
childhood. Some people may never have symptoms again, but for others, it can
return during adulthood.
As with many other skin conditions, genetics play a role in
the transmission of ichthyosis vulgaris. The condition follows an autosomal
dominant pattern. This means that only one parent needs to possess the mutated
gene in order to pass it onto his or her child. It is one of the most common of
all inherited skin disorders.
In rare cases, adults can develop ichthyosis vulgaris even
if they don’t carry the defective gene. Though this is rare, it’s most often
associated with other conditions, including cancer, kidney failure, or thyroid
Ichthyosis vulgaris may also occur along with other skin
disorders, such as atopic
dermatitis (eczema) or keratosis pilaris. Atopic dermatitis, more commonly
known as eczema, is known for causing extremely itchy skin rashes. The affected
skin may also be thick and covered in scales. The white or red skin bumps
caused by keratosis pilaris can look similar to acne, but they usually appear
on the arms, thighs, or buttocks. This condition can also cause rough patches
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.
There is currently no cure for ichthyosis vulgaris. However,
treatment can help you manage your symptoms.
Exfoliating your skin with a loofa or a pumice stone after
you bathe can help you remove the excess skin.
You should also regularly apply moisturizers that have urea
or propylene glycol in them. These chemicals will help your skin stay moist. Using
products with urea, lactic, or salicylic acid can also help your skin shed dead
cells. Using a humidifier in your home will add moisture into the air and keep
your skin from drying out.
Your doctor may also prescribe specialized creams or
ointments to help moisturize the skin, get rid of dead skin, and control
inflammation and itching. These may include topical treatments containing the
- Lactic acid or other alpha hydroxy acids: These
compounds, also used in antiaging cosmetics, help the skin retain moisture and
- Retinoids: Retinoids may be used in difficult
cases to slow your body’s production of skin cells. These substances are
derived from vitamin A, so they may have some adverse side effects. These may
include lip swelling, hair loss, or birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
with ichthyosis vulgaris
Living with ichthyosis vulgaris and similar skin conditions
is difficult at times, especially for children. If the cosmetic impact of the
condition becomes too much, you may want to attend a support group or see a
mental health professional. These therapies can help you to regain your
confidence and deal with any emotional difficulties you may encounter.
The key to living with this condition is learning to make
management of this disease part of your daily routine.