Ichthyosis vulgaris is a skin disorder passed down through families that leads to dry, scaly skin.
Common ichthyosis; Fish scale disease
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 you only need to get the abnormal gene from one parent in order to inherit the disease.
The condition is often more noticeable in the winter. It may occur along with atopic dermatitis, asthma, keratosis pilaris (small bumps on the back of the arms and legs), or other skin disorders.
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 palm of the hand.
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider can usually diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Tests may be needed 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.
Your provider will recommend using 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.
Ichthyosis vulgaris can be bothersome, but it rarely affects your overall health. The condition usually disappears during adulthood, but may return years later.
A bacterial skin infection may develop if scratching causes openings in the skin.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
- Symptoms continue despite treatment
- Symptoms get worse
- Skin lesions spread
- New symptoms develop
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 kertinization. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 9.
Reviewed 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, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.