Ichthyosis Vulgaris

Ichthyosis vulgaris refers to an inherited skin disease characterized by the accumulated dead skin cells forming thick, dry scales on the surface of the skin.

Ichthyosis vulgaris is sometimes called fish skin or fish scale disease. The scales formed can also be present at birth or during early childhood. Mild ichthyosis vulgaris may be left ignored by some people as it can be easily mistaken for really dry skin.

In most cases, the condition is mild but it can be severe as well. Sometimes other skin diseases may be associated with the condition. There is no known cure for ichthyosis vulgaris however; certain treatment methods may be used to control symptoms.

Signs and symptoms

Ichthyosis vulgaris causes a slowdown in the natural shedding process of the skin; therefore, it results in excessive buildup keratin (the protein in the upper skin layer).

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Small, thick, tile-like scales
  • Flaky scalp
  • White, grey or brown scales – darker scales for darker skin
  • Deep and painful skin cracks

Scales typically occur in the lower legs, elbows and may be thicker and darker on the shins. Severity of this condition depends on the members of the family with ichthyosis vulgaris.

Symptoms worsen during cold or dry weathers and normally improve in warm and humid weathers.

When to seek medical attention

If you suspect ichthyosis vulgaris in your child, see a dermatologist or a family doctor for appropriate treatment. Make sure you see your doctor if symptoms worsen or do not improve with home remedies recommended and/or medications recommended by your doctor so that you can receive a stronger prescription to cope with the condition.


There is no known cure for the condition however medications such as retinoids and alpha hydroxyl acids prescribed by your doctor may improve the moisture levels and relieve certain symptoms.

Similarly, self-help measures will not cure the condition; however, they may improve the outward appearance and feel of the affected skin.

  • Take long baths in order to hydrate and soften the skin and then use a rough-textured sponge or a loofa to remove scales
  • Use mild soaps with added fats and oils. Avoid antibacterial and strongly scented soaps that, may aggravate dry skin
  • Pat your skin dry using a towel so that you do not dry your skin completely
  • Apply a moisturizer right after a bath, while some moisture is still in your skin. You can use petroleum jelly for dry areas and wrap these regions with a plastic wrap to prevent staining of the clothes
  • An over-the-counter skin product consisting of lactic acid, urea or a low concentration of salicylic acid can be used twice daily to encourage shedding of dry skin cells and keeping moisture intact
  • Use a home humidifier to increase the moisture levels of your room
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