Ichthyosis: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Complications, Diagnosis and Treatment

It is a group of uncommon conditions that affect a small group of people where there is severe dryness and peeling skin.

So far there is no cure for Ichthyosis but there are endless treatments that relieve the incrustation of the skin for a better quality of life.

Ichthyosis is not a disease and people with this condition lose the protective barrier that keeps moisture in their skin.

They also produce new skin cells too quickly or remove old cells slowly. This leads to an accumulation of thick and scaly skin. This condition looks like fish scales.


Some types only cause dry and scaly skin. Others cause some severe problems within the body. Most forms of this condition are very rare and the most common of these are:

Vulgar Ichthyosis: is the most diagnosed and suffers one in 250 people.

Recessive Ichthyosis: it suffers approximately one in 6,000 men.


It can be inherited or acquired:

Inherited Ichthyosis: this is caused by mutations or changes in the genes.

Genes are the codes that tell your body to make proteins, which determine how your body looks and functions.

Mutations of the Ichthyosis gene affect the proteins that protect your skin and keep it moist. On the other hand, they affect the speed with which cells multiply or detach.

Parents transmit these genes to their children. Sometimes, children whose parents do not have Ichthyosis acquire the disease before birth.

The genetic change or genetic disorder occurs within the ovum or sperm, or when the process of fertilization occurs, also called “spontaneous mutation”.

Some people have the genetic mutation but do not show symptoms. They are called carriers.

Acquired Ichthyosis: occurs in an adult age and doctors have not yet identified that produces or active.

People with acquired Ichthyosis often have other conditions, such as:

  • Thyroid gland not active.
  • Kidney disease
  • Sarcoidosis , a rare disease that causes patches of inflammation inside the body.
  • Cancer like Hodgkin’s lymphoma .
  • HIV infection.

Some medications can also trigger the disease:

Anti-cancer drugs such as Vemurafenib (Zelboraf), Hydroxyurea (Hydrea, Droxia) and protease inhibitors (a class of medicines used to treat HIV infections) or nicotinic acid, which is used to treat high cholesterol.


In inherited forms, symptoms appear at birth or in the first months of life.

Dry, scaly skin is the main symptom. Scales form only in some parts of the body, such as:

  • Stomach.
  • Buttocks.
  • Legs.
  • Face and scalp.

The scales can be white, gray or dark brown. They may have thick or thin cracks running through them.

Dryness and fouling get worse in cold, dry climates. In general, they improve in a warmer climate.

Other signs of Ichthyosis are:

  • Cutaneous redness.
  • Blisters
  • Peeling.
  • Itch.
  • Pain.
  • Tight skin that makes it difficult to move.
  • Many people with Ichthyosis also have eczema, which is a red itchy skin rash.


The skin is the body’s barrier, keeps moisture inside and prevents bacteria and other invaders that can make the body sick. When Ichthyosis causes parts of the skin to escalate, some of this protective layer is lost.

Blocked sweat glands can cause overheating.

Slow hair growth from scales on the scalp.

It burns more calories, because the skin has to work harder to turn the cells around.

Ichthyosis can also cause emotional problems. People with this condition sometimes feel depressed and have low self-esteem.

Men with Ichthyosis also have an increased risk of:

  • Testicular cancer.
  • Testicles not descended or hidden.
  • Low sperm count.

Other complications include:

  • Loss of vision due to damage to the cornea (the transparent layer on the front of the eye).
  • Brain and nervous system problems.


Sometimes it is so slight that it looks like normal dry skin. If the dryness and incrustation bother you, consult a dermatologist to perform a biopsy and determine what condition your skin presents.

You could also examine your saliva to detect genetic changes that cause certain types of Ichthyosis.


It can not be cured, but treatments can help control dry and flaky skin.

Rub the cream, lotion or ointment on your skin every day to add moisture. Look for rich creams that have any of these ingredients: lanolin, alpha hydroxy acids, urea or propylene glycol. Products with ceramides or cholesterol also keep the skin moist.

Apply the lotion immediately after leaving the shower or bath, when your skin is still wet. This will help maintain moisture. Other things you can try:

  • Take baths in salt water.
  • Rub your skin with a pumice stone.
  • Remove dead skin with a product that contains salicylic acid, glycolic acid or lactic acid.

If the dryness and desquamation are severe, your doctor may prescribe an oral retinoid medication such as acitretin (Soriatane) or isotretinoin (Absorica, Claravis, Sotret and others).

Retinoids can cause side effects such as weak bones , dry mouth and upset stomach.

Ichthyosis is not life threatening, but it can change the organism.

Your dermatologist can recommend treatments to help your skin look and feel better. Talk to a therapist or other mental health experts if you feel depressed or have low self-esteem.