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Scaly skin

There are lots of possible reasons why your skin might look scaly. This is definitely a problem to see your doctor about, because all the causes can be treated.

Look carefully at the scaly part of your skin. Is it a patch, with a definite edge? Perhaps there is just one patch, or there might be several. There are three common causes of scaly patches – psoriasis, fungal infection and pityriasis rosea – but you need to see your doctor who will also consider other, less common, possibilities.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis (‘sor-eye-a-sis’) is one of the commonest causes. The patches have a definite edge, and their surface is covered with small, silvery scales. Psoriasis often occurs on the elbows, knees and on the scalp. It is usually itchy. Many people with psoriasis notice that the surface of their nails has tiny pits, as if someone has hit the nail with a tiny ice-pick.

Psoriasis can start at any age, but age 35 years is average. No-one knows what causes it. It runs in the family in about a third of cases, and it is more likely and more severe in smokers. Some medications such as lithium (for bipolar disorder) and beta-blockers (for blood pressure) can make it worse. There are many different treatments. If the psoriasis is not severe, your doctor will probably prescribe a steroid cream.

Fungal infection

A fungal infection is another common cause of scaly patches of skin. There may be just one patch, or several. Often the patch gradually enlarges, while the centre seems to clear. The culprits can be various types of fungi, and your doctor can prescribe a cream that is appropriate for the type that you have. Some fungi can cause toenail infection

Pityriasis rosea

Pityriasis rosea is the third most common cause of scaly patches. (Pityriasis means bran-like scale, and rosea means pink.) Older children and young adults are most commonly affected. It seems to be a harmless condition that clears up on its own within a few weeks. There will be lots of small scaly patches on the trunk and neck, and each patch has a delicate scaly surface.

Icthyosis 

The name ‘icthyosis’ (‘ik-thee-oh-sis’) comes from a Greek word meaning fish (‘icthys’), because it causes scaliness of the skin over most of the body. The scales are small, flaky and white or grey, and often curl up at the edges, making the skin feel rough. Icthyosis is uncommon, and usually runs in families. It usually shows up by the age of 5 years, and then begins to lessen. It is not particularly itchy. Emollients are an important part of treatment (see our advice for dry skin), and your doctor may suggest a special cream to remove some of the scales so they are less obvious. 

Scabies

An itchy, scaly rash may be an allergic reaction to the saliva and faeces of scabies mites. For more information on scabies see our page on itching: questions to ask yourself.

Scaly scalp

If the scaly skin is on your scalp, look at our dandruff section. 

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, March 18th 2011

 


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Comments on this article

Posted by Optional on 27/10/2016 at 08:08

this skin disease of psoriosis i think i have it. am just worried will it affect my sexual life because my skin looks redish and when i clean it easily breaks and i bleed a little. please help what can i do about this

Posted by Jen on 09/12/2015 at 01:12

Ive got scaly on my legs this is a big problem for me ever sence i never use short pants many people laugh becoz of my scaly skin plz help me what can i do

Posted by Optional on 14/08/2015 at 02:58

Pls my name is joy i have this scall peeling skin what should i use for my skin to become smooth and beautiful please help me

Posted by Brenda on 27/07/2015 at 10:47

I have darck scarly skin on my toes it is really embarrasing l want to wear sandals but l cant please help

Posted by Anonymous on 14/07/2015 at 04:54

I have very dry flacky and discolored skin. It's started to affect me at puberty. My entire truck is covered in light brown spots.it is noticeable because I have brown skin. Also my skin looks scaly and flaky and itches and breaks out when the weather changes, especially in the warmer months.

Posted by Optional on 12/02/2015 at 07:45

I have had an itchy patch on my groin for about 2 weeks. It's red/pinkish underneath white flakiness. It hasn't spread but it's gotten more puffy, dry, and flaky. I've looked all over the Internet, but nothing seems to describe this. I'm really scared please help

Posted by Optional on 04/01/2015 at 08:31

I have a lot of dandruff and my nose peels should I be worried

Posted by Optional on 17/12/2014 at 12:49

for the las 2 or 3 weeks I'venoticd scaley patches of skin. the most obvious one is on my elbow but i have a few on my thighs and on one nee. they're not very itchy, just ugly. They're white.

Posted by Optional on 16/10/2014 at 10:56

Hi. I noticed some patches behind my back that has stayed for years now. Anytime I bath it itches me and can take minutes before am relieved. I have used so many antifungai creams but the patches are still there and it spreads. What else can I do. Thnks

Posted by Optional on 13/10/2014 at 01:56

Am peter there is these white scaly patches on my neck they they are such a bother pse help me

Posted by mscared on 01/07/2013 at 12:05

a couple f weeks b4 my last period i began experiencing a scratching of my vagina lips, nothing to major, but on having intercourse i got sore to the point where i pulled away from my husband, with my period there was no scratching, so i assumed it was some per period age related symptom.problem now, the scratching has resumed post menstral, and i now notice 2 tiny bumps, which are now the source of my scratching, and its now a very painful experience when i urinate. i am scared out of my mind,i have never any vagina related problems in the past.

Posted by yummy mummy on 27/02/2013 at 03:12

Hi, Six weeks ago I had silvery dry skin around my groin. It was not itchy, it just looked ugly and it was spreading across my thighs. My doctor said that it was dry skin but I asked for fungal infection cream after reading articles on the web. She gave me mousteriser and canestan cream too. She told me to apply the canestan cream for 10 days, twice a day and I did, it seemed to have cleared up, but now its back again. It's silvery, not itchy, but is spreading across my thighs. I do have fungal infection on my toes which ive been taking terbinafine for, the first time for five months,I was told that was long enough although i could see it hadnt entirely cleared up my toes, however i was told the nail would grow and it would clear up. The fungal infection came back again and this time i was on Terbinafine for another six months but i get rashes as a side effect, so i was told to stop again. clearly i could see it hadnt cleared up my toe and now its spreading again and i have three toes that are infected and a groin. Help!!!!! I am a clean person, but i dont know how to stop it for good. I am getting really fed up with it all. And just for the record, I am very punctual with taking medicine.

Posted by Optional on 28/07/2012 at 12:27

I have to 2 brown spot not raised but skin is scaly and flaky what is this does not itch nor hurt

Posted by cat on 16/06/2012 at 07:19

my virginal lips itch and the itching extends to the anal area. I have ever had candida which occurs esp during the cold weather and i get treatment from a gyno, but this itching is diff and am wondering what it is. Pse help

Posted by rose on 18/11/2011 at 12:44

itching nipples scabs on both areola of and on for years

Posted by Optional on 15/07/2011 at 09:03

very educative keep it up.

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