Ichthyosis is a group of skin disorders characterized by dry, thick, rough and scaly skin. If not treated properly, ichthyosis can interfere with the function of the skin in preventing dehydration, regulating body temperature , and protecting the body from infection .

Ichthyosis is different from xerosis . In xerosis , the outermost layer of the skin is dehydrated. Xerosis usually occurs due to a dry climate or too long a bath with hot water.

While ichthyosis is a hereditary disease that causes interference with the release of dead skin cells. As a result, dead skin cells accumulate, making the skin look dry and flaky.

There are at least 20 variations of ichthyosis, including ichthyosis vulgaris,  X-linked ichthyosis , congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma , and a rare disease called Harlequin ichthyosis . Of these types, ichthyosis vulgaris is the most common type and causes the mildest symptoms.

Causes of Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis is caused by disturbances in the skin regeneration process which is triggered by loss of skin moisture. In this condition, the process of formation and replacement of skin cells is disrupted so that skin cells continue to accumulate. As a result, the skin will continue to thicken until it resembles fish scales.

The causes of ichthyosis can be divided based on the group, namely:

Inherited ichthyosis

This type of ichthyosis occurs due to changes (mutations) in the gene. This genetic mutation affects the speed of skin cell regeneration and the skin's ability to retain moisture.

Some types of ichthyosis caused by genetic mutations are:

  • Ichthyosis vulgaris
  • X-linked ichthyosis
  • Congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma
  • Harlequin ichthyosis

Acquired ichthyosis

Acquired ichthyosis usually develops during adulthood. This condition is triggered and associated with certain diseases or medical conditions, such as:

  • hypothyroid
  • Kidney illness
  • HIV infection
  • Certain types of cancer, such as leukemia or  Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Sarcoidosis

In addition, acquired ichthyosis can also be triggered by the use of certain drugs, such as:

  • Drugs for cancer, such as  hydroxyurea , protease inhibitors, and vemurafenib
  • Drugs to treat high cholesterol, such  as nicotinic acid
  • Medicines to treat stomach acid, such as  cimetidine
  • Drugs to treat leprosy, such as clofazimine

Symptoms of Ichthyosis

The main symptom of ichthyosis is  dry , thick, and scaly skin. The scales that result from ichthyosis can be white, gray, or dark brown. These complaints can appear on the back, stomach, buttocks, legs, shin area, elbows, face, and scalp.

In addition to the main symptoms mentioned above, sufferers of ichthyosis can also experience the following symptoms:

  • Skin that peels off easily
  • Skin cracks more easily
  • Itchy red skin
  • The skin feels tight so it is difficult to move
  • The skin cannot sweat

These symptoms can get worse when the air is cold and improve when the air is warmer.

When to see a doctor

Check with your doctor if you or your baby experience the symptoms mentioned above. Early treatment can prevent worsening of symptoms and various complications due to this condition.

If you have been diagnosed with ichthyosis, take control regularly to the doctor to monitor the development of the condition. If the symptoms of ichthyosis that you or your baby are experiencing get worse or don't improve with independent treatment, consult a doctor immediately.

Diagnosis of Ichthyosis

To diagnose ichthyosis, the doctor will ask about complaints, medical history, and medications taken by the patient. Next, the doctor will perform a physical examination of the skin area.

The signs and symptoms of ichthyosis are sometimes similar to those of other skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. Therefore, the doctor will carry out the following investigations to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Skin biopsy, by taking and examining a patient's skin sample, to find out changes in skin structure and causes of skin disorders
  • DNA testing , for example using a saliva sample, to look for gene changes, especially in inherited ichthyosis

Ichthyosis Treatment

Ichthyosis is a condition that cannot be cured. However, there are treatments that can be done to relieve complaints and prevent complications, such as:

Skin care products

Doctors can prescribe creams, lotions, or ointments that contain  lanolin , alpha hydroxy acid urea, propylene glycol , salicylic acid, and ceramides . These various substances can remove dead skin cells and keep the skin moist.

In addition, there are several efforts that patients can take independently to relieve complaints and symptoms of ichthyosis, namely:

  • Applying  petroleum jelly  to the skin before showering or bathing
  • Rub the skin gently using a sponge while bathing
  • Shower or bath more than once a day
  • Choose soaps that contain moisturizers and oils
  • Use  a humidifier  in your home or office so that the air around you is always moist


In ichthyosis that is classified as severe, doctors can prescribe drugs in the form of:

  • Retinoids
    Retinoids  can be prescribed by doctors to reduce the production of skin cells and improve the appearance of the skin.
  • Antibiotics or antiseptics
    Antibiotics  or antiseptics can be prescribed by doctors to treat infections that occur in the skin.

If the ichthyosis is caused by a genetic disorder, the above methods are applied only to control the symptoms. Meanwhile, in ichthyosis that is triggered by certain conditions, treatment of trigger factors also needs to be done. If these triggers can be cured, ichthyosis has the potential to be cured.

Ichthyosis Complications

Some of the complications that can occur due to ichthyosis are:

  • Dehydration
  • Skin is prone to infection
  • Increased body temperature so that the risk of causing heatstroke
  • Stunted hair growth
  • Decreased self-confidence
  • Depression

Prevention of Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis triggered by hereditary factors cannot be prevented. However, there are several efforts that can be made to prevent worsening of the symptoms experienced, namely:

  • Regularly apply  skin moisturizer , especially after bathing and when the weather is dry.
  • Choose an oil-based body wash to keep your skin moisturised.
  • Keep the air moist where you live, for example by installing a humidifier .
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