Ichthyosis Vulgaris

It is surprising to know that skin is the largest organ of the body. Its total area is 20 square feet. It helps as a protective barrier from the external environment. But, in our life, we come across many skin disorders that affect the skin. Ichthyosis vulgaris is one such skin condition that makes your skin dry, dead by the accumulation of patches on the skin surface. It resembles the fish skin, so it is called “fish scale disease.”

In most of the people, only a portion of the skin is affected and is mild. But, in few people, the condition is so severe and affects larger areas of the body, including the abdomen, back, arms, and legs.


Like many other skin conditions, the major cause of ichthyosis vulgaris is genetics. It follows an autosomal dominant pattern (one parent possess the mutated gene to pass to the child). Therefore, it is called as an inherited skin disorder.

Ichthyosis vulgaris can also be a congenital disorder and can appear in the early years of your life. The symptoms usually go away during the early childhood. But, in few people, the symptoms may never reoccur, and in few, the symptoms can return during adulthood.

This skin disorder can rarely be associated with chronic conditions such as kidney failure, thyroid disease, or cancer.

Ichthyosis vulgaris can also occur as a comorbid condition with other skin disorders such as eczema or keratosis pilaris.


If you are affected with Ichthyosis vulgaris, your skin’s shedding process would be slowed down. This builds up the excessive protein in the superior layers of skin. This is presented as:

  • Dry skin
  • Flaky scalp
  • Small scales
  • Painful cracks in the skin

The scaly skin appears on your elbows and lower parts of the legs. These symptoms usually worsen or are more in cold, dry climates and tend to resolve in warm environments.


Your dermatologist usually diagnoses ichthyosis vulgaris by seeing the symptoms on your skin. Your dermatologist would take a detailed medical history to know about the age you first experienced the symptoms and to learn if you have any other skin disorders in the past.

Your dermatologist will also record where you have patches of dry skin as this helps in understanding the effectiveness of the treatment.

To rule out the other skin disorders such as psoriasis, your dermatologist would order for blood tests or skin biopsy. For a skin biopsy, a small section of affected skin is removed an examined under the microscope.


There is no proper cure for ichthyosis vulgaris. The main goal of the treatment is to alleviate the symptoms. Your dermatologist may prescribe some medications which include:

Exfoliating creams and ointments

These medications contain alpha hydroxyl acids that help control the scaling on the skin and also help to increase the moisture in your skin.

Oral medications

Your dermatologist prescribes vitamin A derivatives that help in the production of skin cells. But, you may experience side effects such as lip inflammation, hair fall, and bone spurs.

These medications can also cause birth defects in your child. Therefore women who are pregnant or willing to conceive must not take these medications.

Lifestyle changes

Self-help measures would help you relieve from the damage of the skin. Consider the tips given below:

  • You can use a pumice stone for removing the scales on the skin.
  • Use mild soaps for bathing; long time soaking may soften your skin.
  • You can apply petroleum jelly that keeps your skin soft and smooth.
  • Avoid rubbing of skin after the bath. Instead, you can just pat dry the skin so that the moisture remains on the skin.
  • Apply an OTC product which contains lactic acid or low concentration of salicylic acid twice daily. These compounds help your skin shed its dead skin cells.