Ichthyosis

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What is ichthyosis?

Ichthyosis is a rare skin condition that can be inherited or is connected to another illness. There are lots of different types of ichthyosis – most only involve the skin.

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What causes it?

It isn’t known exactly what causes ichthyosis but we do know that it can be inherited. If this is the case, symptoms will often manifest at birth or within the first year of life.

However, ichthyosis can also develop after another condition (including, for example, an underactive thyroid, kidney disease, lymphoma or HIV infection or be triggered by some medication).

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How is it different to healthy skin?

Skin cells usually have a life cycle of about 21–28 days. They develop in the bottom layer of the skin and move up towards the surface, gradually changing as they go until they reach the top, harden and flake off.

Most people who have ichthyosis have inherited a particular gene that affects the speed at which their skin cells regenerate. Sometimes the skin cells make new cells faster than they can be shed, or the body takes longer to shed old cells. This means that skin cells build up on the surface of the skin and cause rough, scaly areas.

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What are the signs and symptoms?

If you have ichthyosis, you might have dry, rough or scaly skin and might see fine, light-grey scales in the affected areas. It’s possible for the skin on most parts of the body to be affected, but it can be most common on your arms or legs.

E45 skin school: types of ichthyosis

E45 skin school: types of ichthyosis

There are several different types of ichthyosis. Ichthyosis vulgaris is the most common type, and affects about 1 in 250–1000 people. For most people, the condition is mild and it’s only found on certain parts of the body.

There are also some very rare types of ichthyosis, like harlequin ichthyosis and lamellar ichthyosis. These are usually diagnosed at birth. If you or your child have one of these conditions, it’s likely that you’ll already be in touch with a healthcare professional. If you’re not then speak to your GP.

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How can you treat it?

Ichthyosis is a chronic condition unfortunately, this means that there isn’t a cure. However, with professional help and by learning to manage your skin over time using an appropriate emollient for you, your skin can improve and you can keep your symptoms under control.

Actively moisturising your skin will help retain more moisture and protect its natural barrier by:

  1. Replenishing your skin’s natural oils (lipids) that can trap water in between your skin cells and prevent it from getting out
  2. Supporting the role of natural moisturising factor (NMF) by enhancing your skin’s ability to attract and hold on to water
  3. Maintaining your skin’s naturally acidic pH that can affect the function of its protective barrier

Find out more about emollients and soap substitutes that can help with ichthyosis here.

When you’re treating ichthyosis, it’s important to use the appropriate emollient for you as part of a personalised skincare routine. Your routine also needs to be something you can manage as easily as possible around other aspects of your life. The more it fits in with what you’re doing, the more you can keep it up and keep your skin healthy.

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