Scaly Skin

Learn more about scaly skin and dry scaling skin.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Scaly Skin?
  2. What Causes Scaly Skin?
  3. More Information on Scaly Skin

What is Scaly Skin?

While some people may suffer from dry skin, others find themselves affected by a more extreme skin disorder called Ichthyosis vulgaris. This skin condition is characterized by extremely scaly skin , especially on the arms and legs, but also on the scalp, back and face.

What Causes Scaly Skin?

The cause for the condition may be hereditary (passed on from a parent) or it may occur from an exposure to a trigger in later life, or certain medications may exacerbate the problem. The scales on the skin range in color from white to gray or brown. Another cause of extreme scaly skin may be psoriasis.

The acquired form of Ichthyosis vulgaris may also be due to internal factors such as:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Infections, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS
  • Glandular diseases, such as thyroid problems
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Cancer
  • Use of certain medications (nicotinic acid, cimetidine, and clofazimine)

Both hereditary and acquired Ichthyosis vulgaris can be soothed in the short term by moisturizing the skin. Any cracks in the skin should be treated immediately to prevent an infection. A physician may recommend a topical cream or lotion containing prescription-strength alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid), or a medication with high concentrations of propylene glycol. Isotretinoin may also be prescribed – however this is a very strong medication with many potential side effects.

If a child or adult continues to have very dry, scaly skin despite twice daily application of an over-the-counter moisturizer should see a physician for evaluation.

More Information on Scaly Skin

Tips to help prevent and treat scaly skin
  • Try to limit your exposure to the sun
  • Creams and ointments work best when applied just after bathing, while your skin is still moist (gently towel dried)
  • Try a natural oatmeal bath to help ease itching
  • Very gentle brushing after baths may help in removing the dead skin (always resist peeling skin off!)
  • Avoid stress, skin injury, sunburn and skin infections and follow good hygiene habits
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated from the inside out
  • Minimize contact with heaters during winter – as they can dry out your skin even further
  • As far as possible, avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate your system