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What is the cause and treatment for ichthyosis?

Q: I have fish like scales on my legs due to very dry skin. I also have red spots all over my body due to inflamed hair follicles. They are not itchy. I know it is a hereditary condition, because my mother also has the same thing. When I was in India, the doctor gave me a topical solution to apply, which had salicylic acid. In a few weeks my condition improved a lot. I have lost that prescription and I don't have that medicine any more with me. Can you please tell me what the dermatologist had given me? Other dermatologists tell me to use creams, which are not helping.

A:You could be suffering from Ichthyosis. It is a skin disorder which causes the formation of dry, fish-like scales on the skins surface. The condition often begins in early childhood and is usually lifelong. It is usually inherited from ones parents. It worsens in cold dry weather. People with ichthyosis have a defect in their skin which causes it to lose moisture. In a large majority of people with the disease, the cause is related to one or more genetic mutations. Treatment guidelines are:

  • Do not take hot baths or showers; they dry out the skin. Use warm to cool water. Soap should not be used on your skin because it irritates and dries the skin. You should use the soap substitute eg. Cetaphil lotion.
  • Do not rub the skin dry after you bathe. Dab your skin gently.
  • The doctor can prescribe an Alpha hydroxyacid lotion for your skin which will dissolve the scales and will increase the moisture content of your skin.
  • There is no cure for ichthyosis. This is a life-long condition which can be managed or controlled.
  • Living in a warm climate often improves ichthyosis.


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