What Is Ichthyosis? & and How Can I Treat My Skin?

Ichthyosis is a group of skin conditions resulting in dry, thick, or scaly skin. It’s called ichthyosis from the Greek word for "fish" because the skin often looks scaly. The skin of those with ichthyosis doesn’t exactly maintain itself — instead, it makes too many new skin cells and/or sheds the old ones a little too slowly, leading to the skin becoming dry, thickened, rough and scaly. 


There is no cure for ichthyosis, but there are many ways to manage the symptoms. Interested in learning more? We’ve got you. 


What Exactly is Inherited Ichthyosis?

Simply put, inherited ichthyosis is a genetic condition meaning it’s passed down to you from your mom or dad. Genes are the codes that tell your body to make proteins -- which determine how your body functions and looks. 

When there are changes, or mutations,  to a gene, it can lead to changes in how you look or function. Ichthyosis gene mutations affect the proteins that protect your skin and keep it moist. They also affect how fast your body grows or sheds new skin cells. 

As we mentioned, ichthyosis usually shows up in early childhood. If both of your parents have the gene, you’re likely to have a more serious condition than if only one of them has the gene.


What Exactly is Acquired Ichthyosis?

While inherited ichthyosis shows up at birth and is due to a gene, acquired ichthyosis shows up in adulthood. 

Docs aren't exactly sure as to what causes it, but those with it often have other conditions, including:

  • Kidney disease

  • Sarcoidosis, a rare disease that causes patches of inflammation inside the body

  • Underactive thyroid gland

  • HIV infection

  • Cancer, such as Hodgkin lymphoma

Some meds might also trigger the condition:

  • Nicotinic acid, which is used to treat high cholesterol

  • Cancer drugs — such as protease inhibitors, hydroxyurea, and vemurafenib


Types of Ichthyosis

There are around 20 different types of ichthyosis. Some are inherited at birth, while other types are acquired during adulthood. Here are a few of the most common types:

Ichthyosis Vulgaris: Of all the different types of ichthyosis, ichthyosis vulgaris is the most common (affecting 1 in 250 people), and is caused by a specific gene. The condition is characterized by dry, rough, and scaly skin that appears during the early years (i.e., before the age of one).

X-Linked Recessive Ichthyosis: This type of ichthyosis affects about one out of 6,000 people.

Epidermolytic Ichthyosis: Here, the baby is born with red, moist, and delicate skin with blisters. Scaling occurs during the early years. 

Lamellar Ichthyosis: This condition is seen in infants. Here, the baby is usually covered from head to toe in a thick membrane at birth which is later shed, but scales are still present all over the body. 

Harlequin ichthyosis: This is extremely rare, but the scaling is severe and requires intensive care at birth. 


Symptoms of Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis is characterized by dry and scaly skin, usually over large areas of the body. The skin may also itch and be red everywhere. Infants born with some forms of the disorder may be born covered in a parchment-like membrane called collodion membrane.

The appearance of the scales tends to vary from person to person. in some forms, the scales may be fine and white, while in others, the scales may be brown, dark and separated by deep cracks or fissures. More severe forms of ichthyosis can cause other issues. When the skin loses moisture, it becomes tight, dry, and inelastic. This rigidity can make moving extremely uncomfortable and can cause your skin to crack. Thickening of the skin on the soles of the feet can make walking challenging, while cracking around the fingers can make even simple day-to-day tasks painful. In some types of ichthyosis, the skin is unbelievably fragile and will rub off with even the slightest abrasion. Abrasions and cracks then leave the skin open to infection. 

Severe scaling on the scalp is also a symptom that can interfere with hair growth. Thick, rough scales can block pores, making sweating difficult, ultimately increasing the risk of overheating. Although the outer layer of skin is thicker in ichthyosis, it’s less effective in preventing calorie and water loss by diffusion across the surface of the skin. The rapid turnover of the outer layers in some forms of ichthyosis requires additional energy. Because of greater energy needs, some kids with severe ichthyosis may require additional calories to grow normally. 

Some individuals with ichthyosis have difficulty closing their eyes completely because the surrounding skin is so tight. This condition -- called ectropion -- causes the eyelids to flip outward, exposing the red inner lid and causing extreme irritation. If it’s left untreated, damage to the cornea may develop, leading to impaired vision. 


How to Manage Ichthyosis

Currently, there is no cure for ichthyosis. The primary goal in caring for it is to hydrate the skin, lock in natural or applied moisturizers, and reduce scaliness so that the individual is physically and emotionally comfortable. 

Treatment plans tend to vary from person to person, ranging from a variety of over-the-counter moisture products to prescription retinoids and creams.

Amp Up Your Skincare Routine

Skincare is of the utmost importance — especially for those with ichthyosis. Moisturizing and exfoliating your skin can do wonders in helping to prevent dryness, scaling, and the build-up of skin cells. 

We love our hydrating mask LIKE BUTTER because it’s packed with powerful botanicals that leave  skin so smooth it’s like, well, butter. It helps to soothe and restore dry, flaky skin while fortifying your skin’s damaged moisture barrier to help keep moisture locked in. 

To smooth  skin while balancing your skin tone, try Topical’s Faded gel serum that gently fades the look of your most stubborn marks, scars, and spots, so that you can kick back and let your worries fade away.  

For the best results, use a pumice stone in the bath or shower and gently rub your wet skin to help remove some of the thickened skin. Once you're done bathing, apply your emollients and moisturizers to wet skin to better trap moisture. Brush washed hair to help remove scales from your scalp. 

Your dermatologist may also recommend peeling creams (such as salicylic acid) to help exfoliate and moisturize your skin. However, some individuals may find these products irritate their skin, making the symptoms worse. 

Prescription Ointments

Some prescription ointments and creams can help control the scaling linked to ichthyosis. They contain alpha hydroxy acids and can help add moisture to the skin. When people with ichthyosis use lotion or ointment, they can increase their skin’s hydration, help reduce any cracking or splitting, and help keep additional scaling at may. 

There are many different prescription lotions and ointments. Using these products can help immensely to manage ichthyosis and hopefully prevent it from becoming worse. However, you will continually have to keep up with the treatment because otherwise, your skin can revert back to being scaly and irritated. 


Bottom Line

Ichthyosis may seem intense, but with the right products and a little TLC, it’s totally manageable! One easy way to help keep dryness and scaly skin at bay is by using nourishing skincare products like the ones right here at Topicals

Topicals is much more than beauty and much more than skincare; we are the new standard — medicated botanicals. Using only science-backed ingredients and herbals, our products work with your skin, not against it. 

Give your skin the gift of moisture and find relief and check out Topicals today!