Scaling skin may arise when an injury or a medical condition damages the outer layer of skin. Some conditions interfere with the structure and moisture content of the skin or cause the body to produce extra skin, which can lead to dry or flaky skin.
Scaling skin is a symptom of many medical conditions, including psoriasis, contact dermatitis, eczema, and fungal skin infections. Some causes can lead to health complications if left untreated. Commonly affected areas include the face, legs, and hands.
Continue reading to find out what causes scaling skin, how to identify the condition with our picture guide, treatment options, and when to see a doctor.
Pictures of scaling skin
Causes of scaling skin
Scaling skin is a symptom of many different skin conditions, including:
Eczema is a common skin condition that affects 30 percent of people in the United States. It is most common in children and adolescents.
Some types of eczema that cause scaling skin include:
- Location: elbows, knees, cheeks, neck, legs, and arms
- Symptoms: dry, flaky patches of skin that can ooze a clear fluid
- Location: fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet
- Symptoms: small blisters that can turn into skin cracks or cause the skin to thicken
- Location: areas where the skin is oily, such as the scalp, ears, face, and armpits
- Symptoms: yellowish or white crusty rash
- Location: lower legs
- Symptoms: dry, scaly skin and hot, leaking blisters
- Location: lower legs
- Symptoms: dry, scaly skin with red cracks
Ichthyosis is a family of rare skin disorders characterized by thick, scaling patches of skin.
Ichthyosis can appear on many parts of the body, including:
Symptoms of ichthyosis include:
- extremely dry skin
- thick, scaly skin
- flaky skin
- cracks in the skin
Treatments depend on the severity of the symptoms and the cause of scaling.
People can treat mild forms of scaling skin with ointments or creams that contain urea, petrolatum, or lactic acid.
If using creams and ointment regularly does not reduce the scaling, people can talk to their doctor about the best treatment options.
Doctors may recommend prescription-strength ointments to reduce swelling and itching, such as hydrocortisone. For more severe cases, healthcare providers may recommend oral steroids, antibiotics, or antihistamines.
People can find creams and ointments in drugstores and online stores:
- skin creams that contain urea
- skin creams that contain petroleum
- skin creams that contain lactic acid
Scaling leaves the skin broken and vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, which can lead to other health complications if left untreated.
Some of the medical conditions mentioned above may lead to other health complications. For example, people with psoriasis may develop psoriatic arthritis, a condition characterized by pain and inflammation of the joints.
Actinic keratosis requires extra attention as some bumps may be precancerous.
When to see a doctor
Scaling skin is not a medical emergency. However, people should seek medical attention if they experience any of the following:
- scaling skin that does not improve even after regular skin care
- the rash or area of affected skin begins spreading
- an allergic reaction, which includes hives, fever, or difficulty breathing
Scaling skin is a symptom of many different medical conditions, such as psoriasis, contact dermatitis, eczema, and fungal skin infections. Scaling skin is not a medical emergency.
People who experience persistent scaling may want to contact their healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.
Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the cause of the scaling. People can treat mild forms of scaling with thick ointments or creams. More severe forms of scaling may require medical attention. Doctors may prescribe antifungals to treat ringworm or antihistamines to treat allergic reactions.
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