Ichthyosis Vulgaris

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Causes of Dry Skin

There is no single cause of dry skin. Dry skin causes can be classified as external and internal. External factors include cold temperatures and low humidity, especially during the winter when central heaters are used. Internal factors include overall health, age, genetics, family history, and a personal history of other medical conditions like atopic dermatitis.

External factors that cause dry skin include

  • over-washing with harsh soaps,
  • overuse of sanitizers and cleaning agents (alcohol),
  • cold temperature,
  • low humidity.

Ichthyosis vulgaris facts

  • Ichthyosis is a skin disease that superficially appears similar to fish skin with scales.
  • Ichthyosis is inherited and cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
  • Ichthyosis produces very dry itchy skin because of a defective protein that is important in maintaining skin hydration.
  • Ichthyosis is rare.
  • Keeping the skin well lubricated is an important part of the treatment for ichthyosis.

What is ichthyosis vulgaris?

Ichthyosis vulgaris is a rare inherited skin condition that is characterized by extremely dry skin (xerosis) involving most of the skin surface. Ichthyosis vulgaris produces large scales in the skin that can resemble fish scales, hence the term ichthyosis. Vulgaris simply means the common form. There are other types of ichthyosis that are even rarer.

What are causes and risk factors for ichthyosis vulgaris?

An inherited genetic defect, a mutation, affecting a protein called filaggrin causes ichthyosis vulgaris. This mutation is inherited from one's parents or may be caused by a single mutation produced very early in fetal development. It is expressed in an autosomal dominant fashion, which means that all that is necessary to have the disease is a single defective copy of the gene that codes for filaggrin. Since this protein plays a major role in the maintenance of the correct level of hydration in the skin, affected patients have difficulty retaining water in the superficial layers of the skin.

Is ichthyosis vulgaris contagious?

Since this is an inherited condition, it is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person.

What are ichthyosis vulgaris symptoms and signs?

The most significant finding, which is ultimately diagnostic, is the presence of very dry skin over most of the skin surface. The abnormal appearance of the skin is diagnostic of ichthyosis vulgaris. This dryness is manifested by rather large dry scales that seem to spare moist areas like the armpits and groin as well as flexural areas. The characteristic appearance is usually absent at birth but becomes obvious as the child ages.

How do health-care professionals diagnose ichthyosis vulgaris?

Since ichthyosis vulgaris is rare (one in 250-1,000 children), only physicians specializing in the skin (dermatologists) or in genetic defects are equipped to diagnose and treat this condition. The diagnosis is often suspected purely on the basis of the skin's appearance. Evidence of other blood relatives with ichthyosis would support the diagnosis. Occasionally, it may be necessary to examine affected skin with a biopsy using light microscopy and even electron microscopy. Other types of ichthyosis can be confused with ichthyosis vulgaris.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/25/2016

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