Ichthyosis is a group of skin conditions that results in dry, scaly or thick skin. It’s called ‘ichthyosis’ from the Greek word for fish, because the skin can look scaly.
The skin of people with ichthyosis doesn’t maintain itself as usual, and instead it makes too many new skin cells and/or sheds the old ones too slowly, leading to the skin becoming thickened, dry, rough and scaly.
Sadly, there’s no cure for ichthyosis, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. Some types of ichthyosis are inherited at birth and other types are acquired later in life.
Symptoms of inherited ichthyosis appear at birth or within the first year of life.
The most common form of ichthyosis (Ichthyosis Vulgaris) is inherited, and affects about 1 in 250 people. Even if skin appears normal at birth, it can become rough and dry during the first year, leading to a diagnosis of ichthyosis. Symptoms are often worse (and more noticeable) in winter when it's cold and dry and better in the summer with warmer, more humid weather.
Congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma is a rare and serious form of ichthyosis that develops when a baby is born with a shiny yellow membrane (collodion membrane) over its skin, that then sheds within the first week of life.
Acquired ichthyosis develops in adulthood and is often associated with a medical condition (such as thyroid problems, kidney disease, sarcoidosis, Hodgkin lymphoma or HIV) or medications (ie those used in targeted cancer therapy, such as vemurafenib and protein kinase inhibitors).
Sadly, there’s no cure for ichthyosis but there are ways to manage the symptoms.
Risks and Complications of Ichthyosis
Without a robust, healthy and effective skin barrier, the skin of people with ichthyosis loses moisture and is open to infection, damage and invaders, such as allergens. This leads to problems such as:
- skin infection
- severely dry/dehydrated skin
- blocked sweat glands, which can lead to overheating
- slow hair growth or hair loss if the scalp is affected
- weariness and weight-loss, as the skin burns more calories in its cycle of skin cell regeneration
- pain in moving or limited movement if the skin is very tight/cracked
- problems with eyesight or hearing if skin builds up around eyes and ears
Ichthyosis can cause mental health and emotional problems too, as it can be a visible and distressing condition, which affects self-confidence and mood.
What Are The Symptoms Of Ichthyosis?
Although a very few babies are born with serious ichthyosis, the most common form of ichthyosis (ichthyosis vulgaris) tends to develop in the first year of life, during which a baby’s skin can gradually become dry, rough and scaly.
Other forms of ichthyosis occur in adulthood in response to a medical condition or medication.
Symptoms of all variations of the condition involve the overproduction of skin cells and include:
- fine light-grey, white or dark brown scales
- affected areas: the trunk, stomach, buttocks, legs, scalp, eyes and ears
- thickened skin, cracks or lines, on palms and soles of feet
- cracked skin
- reddened skin blisters (can be fluid-filled and prone to infection)
- peeling skin
- tight skin that makes it hard to move
- inflamed scaly skin all over the body
- drooping lower eyelids
- hair loss
- tight skin on the fingers.
Many people with ichthyosis also have eczema.
What Is The Best Lotion For Ichthyosis?
The most common way of managing ichthyosis is with regular and frequent application of emollients. These are lotions, creams, oils or ointments which soften and hydrate dry skin, relieving the soreness of cracked skin, and providing a protective barrier for the body since the skin’s own barrier function is faulty.
Severe cases of ichthyosis are generally treated with prescribed creams containing urea and/or alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid and glycolic acid. But there are also effective general daily over-the-counter emollients which can also help manage skin condition in mild cases.
A good emollient for people prone to mild ichthyosis works in several important ways:
- supports and replenishes the skin’s natural oils which are needed to prevent moisture loss
- provides a breathable physical barrier to moisture loss and to microbes which can cause irritation, itchiness and infection
- softens thick, dry, scaly skin making it more supple and comfortable to move
- provides appropriate nutrients to the epidermis, to regulate and support the natural cycle of skin cell regeneration and repair
- maintains a healthy PH balance on the skin
Balmonds have three emollients which tick all those boxes and which can be used in tandem as an effective daily skincare regime for skin prone to mild ichthyosis.
An Emollient Ointment: Skin Salvation
Ointments are excellent for intensive overnight treatment, as they can be put on thickly before bed and used under wraps, socks, gloves or thin cotton clothes to boost their effectiveness. Skin Salvation is an ideal intensive ointment for the severely dry, cracked or scaly skin of ichthyosis; it’s both protective and hydrating, softening scaly, rough skin and providing the nutrients the skin needs to rebuild itself.
An Emollient Oil: Balmonds Bath & Body Oil
Oils are great for covering a large area of skin when time is of the essence, such as when you’re getting out of the bath. Balmonds Bath & Body can be applied immediately after bathing, onto clean, slightly damp skin and contains incredibly nourishing hemp seed oil to feed the skin with the EFAs it needs. If your skin is prone to infections, you might want to try Balmonds Scalp Oil as a regular conditioning oil on body or scalp, as it’s rich in nourishing naturally antimicrobial oils such as tea tree, rosemary and borage.
An Emollient Lotion: Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
Creams or lotions are good for applying frequently during the day, to keep dehydration and soreness at bay and to top up moisture levels. Our Daily Moisturising Cream is rich, nutritious and protective, easy to apply and quickly absorbed, and like all our products, does not contain the perfumes and other synthetic irritants that can actually end up causing more damage to already fragile skin.
What are the Side Effects of Salicylic Acid For Ichthyosis?
Salicylic acid is a peeling agent (keratolytic) which causes shedding of the outer layer of skin; it’s used to manage the uncomfortable symptoms of ichthyosis.
While it’s usually a very useful treatment for many people living with ichthyosis, sometimes creams containing salicylic acid can cause skin irritation or even serious allergic reaction.
Possible - though rare! - side-effects of topical salicylic acid:
- minor skin irritation, rash, or peeling
- changes in skin colour
- difficult breathing
- dryness and peeling of skin
- hives or itching
- redness of the skin
- swelling of the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
- tightness in the throat
- unusually warm skin
You should stop using creams containing salicylic acid and get immediate emergency medical help if you experience: difficulty in breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat; vomiting or diarrhea.
Salicylic acid should not be used on a child or teenager who has a fever, flu symptoms, or chickenpox.
Salicylates applied to the skin and absorbed into the bloodstream can cause Reye's syndrome, a serious and sometimes fatal condition in children.