In this section
Ichthyosis means 'fish scale' and is the name of a group of
genetic skin diseases that cause dry, scaly, thickened skin.
The condition is usually present at birth or in childhood. It is
not caused by infection and is not contagious (i.e. it cannot be caught by
others). The life span of someone with ichthyosis is normal. There
is no known cure for ichthyosis, but there are treatments available
which can help to improve the skin's condition.
Our skin has many important functions including physical
protection, temperature regulation and providing a barrier to water
and infection. Skin cells are the building blocks of skin and
are made up of keratin.
In normal skin, new skin cells are formed in the deepest layer
at the same time as dead cells are shed from the top layer of the
skin. In ichthyosis, either the dead cells are shed too slowly,
causing a build up of the top dry layer; or the production of new
cells from the lower layers is too slow. The skin barrier is
abnormal and allows too much water to be lost from the skin.
Ichythosis is a genetic disorder. It can be passed down from
parents to children, or it can be acquired.
People with ichthyosis may need to spend a few hours each day
caring for their skin. There are two main sorts of medications in
cream form for the treatment of ichthyosis.
Keratolytics help to loosen the scales and encourage them to come
off and are found in creams which also
moisturise the skin. Unfortunately, they can also be irritating, cause
redness, stinging, itching or discomfort. The strength of the cream can be changed if any of these symptoms occur.
Examples of keratolytics include:
In severe cases of ichthyosis, oral medicine can be helpful to
help get rid of the scale, redness and itch. The tablets come from
vitamin A. Taking high doses of vitamin A can cause side effects
such as dry eyes, lips and nose, nose bleeds, headaches, nausea,
high blood cholesterol and birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
These medicines can only be prescribed by dermatologists and
require strict monitoring with regular check-ups and blood
A person with ichthyosis can also:
See your doctor if your child's skin suddenly gets worse with pain,
cracking or oozing. If you are worried about the treatment, talk to
your child's doctor. If your child is taking tablets, don't forget to come back for regular blood tests and prescriptions.
Ichthyosis can be distressing for patients and their families.
Patients, particularly children, may suffer from poor self-esteem,
teasing or bullying. Meeting with other young people in a similar
situation can be helpful.
Developed by the RCH Dermatology
Department. First published January 2004. Updated November