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What is Ichthyosis?

Ichthyosis is a rare skin condition characterized by persistent and widespread dry, thickened, and “fish scale-like” patches on the skin surface. Ichthyosis may present itself as a mild abnormal skin appearance affecting specific body parts to severe cases covering large areas of the body. The chronic shedding of scaly skin often subject most of the affected people to numerous psychological concerns, such as low self-esteem and depression due to their appearance.

What Causes Ichthyosis?

There are at least twenty different forms of ichthyosis, which are primarily genetically inherited or acquired later in life. The inherited forms of ichthyosis are caused by genetic mutation in the genes of one or both of the parents and passed to the child, which present at birth (congenital) or have a delayed onset. About 95% of all inherited forms of ichthyosis are attributed to ichthyosis vulgaris. Other common inherited cases include X-linked recessive ichthyosis, congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma, and others.

Acquired ichthyosis occurs in rare cases among adults even when they do not carry the mutated gene for the disorder. Their onset and the development are commonly associated with other systemic conditions such as HIV infection, kidney failure, thyroid disease, sarcoidosis, or cancer. Exposure to certain medications like kava, nicotinic acid, or hydroxyl-urea may also trigger the disease. Ichthyosis also occurs concurrently with other allergic skin disorders such as atopic dermatitis, especially among allergic-sensitive individuals to various skin irritants such as toxic chemicals and synthetic products.


The most common clinical signs of ichthyosis include severely dry, thickened, and scaly skin accompanied by redness, excessive skin shedding or blistering. The symptoms manifest through extreme itching, burning sensation, pain, and flaky scalp. The specific signs and symptoms depend on a particular form of ichthyosis.

Diagnosis and Prevention

The dermatologist typically diagnoses ichthyosis based on the physical exam results and evaluations of medical or family history of skin diseases. Patch test, skin biopsy, and blood tests may be performed to identify a particular form of ichthyosis and rule out other skin disorders that manifest similar symptoms like psoriasis, eczema, or contact dermatitis.

There is no current cure for ichthyosis. Topical creams, ointments, and lotions containing ingredients like retinoids, lactic acid, and other alpha hydroxyl acids may be prescribed to manage the severity of symptoms. The treatments help moisturize the skin to relieve dryness, get rid of dead skin cells, and soothe the skin to reduce itching and inflammation. Immersing in a salt water bath and using products with urea or salicylic acid may also help remove excess skin and lessen scaling. Additionally, using natural organic and allergic-free products may help in avoiding the exposure to various skin irritants that may trigger symptoms of ichthyosis.


Krans, B. (September 2016). Ichthyosis Vulgaris. Retrieved 7th, September 2017 from http://www.healthline.com/health/ichthyosis-vulgaris#symptoms3

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (December, 2012). Ichthyosis; Overview. Retrieved 7th, September 2017 from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info//Ichthyosis/default.asp

Ngan, V. (Updated January 2015). Ichthyosis. Retrieved 7th, September 2017 from https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/ichthyosis/

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