A family of at least 20 rare skin disorders characterized by dry, thickened rough, scaling, darkened skin triggered by too much keratin (the main protein component of skin). This group of genetic diseases ranges from mild generalized dry skin (ichthyosis vulgaris) to severe widespread thickened scaly dry skin (lamellar ichthyosis). The disorder’s name is derived from the Greek word ichthus meaning “fish” because the appearance and condition of the skin resemble fish scales. It affects more than one million Americans.
Ichthyosis vulgaris, which affects the thighs, arms, and backs of the hands, usually appears at or shortly after birth and improves as the child grows up. However, in severe conditions, the infant may be stillborn, encased in skin as hard as armor plate. It is not contagious and is not caused by germs.
There is no cure for any of the ichthyoses, which are lifelong diseases, but lubricants and ointments may help the skin dryness, and bath oils can moisten the skin. Ichthyosis improves in a warm, humid climate and worsens in cold weather. Washing with soap aggravates the condition.
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