Scaly Skin – Causes, Conditions And Treatment

Scaly Skin

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    No one wants scales over their skin but there are a lot of reasons that could cause your skin to become crusty, flaky, and rough, such as fungal infections, ageing, and dry skin. Scaly skin and dry patches on the skin, especially on the more visible parts of the body – hands, legs, and face can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing. Fortunately, it is not contagious and in a majority of cases, it is harmless, but, it should be addressed immediately, as it can be a sign of something more serious.

    What Is Scaly Skin?

    Scaling of the skin occurs when the outer most layer of the skin starts to peel on a large scale, causing the skin to appear dry, cracked and flaky. It is also known by the following names – scaly skin, desquamation, flaking skin, dropping of scales, peeling skin.

    Our skin, sheds about 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells daily and replaces them with new skin cells. But, when you notice excessive dryness with your skin being abnormally flaky, then it is called scaling.

    Also Read: How To Repair Damaged Skin?

    The appearances of these itchy red scales can make anyone extra conscious and can affect their lifestyle.  This condition is indicated by extremely scaly skin and is common on the arms and legs, but in some cases, you would find the extension of scaly patches on the scalp, back, and face.

    Scaly skin can be a result of a lot of reasons, thus it is important to consult an expert dermatologist to get to the root of the problem. Because the scaly patches may extend to only one part of the body or there might be several such occurrences. Further, the cause for the scaly patches could be anything – psoriasis, pityriasis rosea, or fungal infection, but you need an expert to diagnose and treat effectively.

    Causes Of Scaly Skin

    Scaling of the skin can be caused by different factors, ranging from ageing, dry skin, and nutritional deficiency, etc. In some cases, this condition can also be hereditary or can trigger later on in one’s life. Sometimes it is a side effect from a certain medication that causes this problem. Here is a list of the common causes of this condition:

    • AGEING – Fine lines, wrinkles, and several other skin problems are caused due to ageing as, with age our skin loses moisture. Thus, ageing leads to dehydrated skin that can also contribute to the dry and scaly patches
    • DRY SKIN – Our skin goes through several phases, and in one of the phases, due to the environment, climatic conditions, and other factors, our skin tends to be dry – it is a part of life. But, if this dryness is excessive then it may result in the peeling of skin and thus leading to scaling

    Also Read: How To Treat Dry Skin?

    • SKIN TYPE – If your skin tends to be dry and sensitive then it is more prone to scaly skin. Everyone has different skin types and based on the type of your skin, it would react differently to various external factors. Some people with dry skin experience redness, while the others observe flaky and scaly skin
    • TOO MUCH EXPOSURE TO SUN – The harmful rays from the sun can cause serious damage to the skin, this includes everything ranging from melanoma to scaly skin
    • CLIMATE – The climatic conditions have a huge impact on your body. If the environment is extra dry, then you would probably have to work a little bit harder to keep your skin moisturized and hydrated. This stands true in winters when the wind is cold and dry and is capable of stripping the moisture off your skin.

    Conditions That Cause Scaly Skin

    Our skin holds a lot of layers, and the outermost layer is a mixture of dead skin cells and several natural oils, which help in locking-in moisture, keeping the skin hydrated. Due to scaling, this outermost layer of the skin is damaged resulting in dehydrating your skin and impairing skin cell renewal process, causing the skin to be scaly and flaky. There are several reasons that could cause your skin to be scaly, but, if you have had a scaly skin for a prolonged period of time and it is a recurring problem, then maybe there is a deeper skin condition that needs to be addressed by an expert dermatologist. The skin conditions that could be causing prolonged or recurring scaling of the skin are –

    • Eczema
    • Scabies
    • Ichthyosis Vulgaris
    • Psoriasis
    • Fungal infections (e.g. athlete’s foot)
    • Actinic keratosis

    In some cases, there are some internal factors that could be the cause of scaly skin –

    • Infections, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Glandular diseases, such as thyroid problems
    • Cancer

    It is important to consult an expert dermatologist if your skin condition is showing no signs of recovery and is recurring.

    Also Read: What Are Dead Skin Cells?

    How does the scaly skin patches look like?

    It is important to seek help from a dermatologist when you observe any of the signs, especially if they are accompanied by the following symptoms –

    • Severe allergic reaction (hives, difficulty in breathing, swelling, itching)
    • Severe weakness
    • High fever
    • Sudden and severe blistering
    • Nausea and vomiting

    How to diagnose scaly skin?

    The diagnosis is based on your medical history, genetics, history of allergic reactions, and other such factors. Furthermore, based on the condition that is causing the scaling, the appearance of the scaly skin condition may vary with red patches, discoloured patches, crusty patches, yellow-greasy patches, etc.

    Scaly Skin Treatment

    Before you initiate treating this skin condition, you need to diagnose what is causing the scaling in the first place. Understand and analyze factors like, if there are any other symptoms accompanying scaling, duration of this skin condition, the parts of the body it has affected, and the probable trigger factors. An expert dermatologist will help you in finding the root cause of this condition. The treatment typically is based on the severity of the symptoms that are causing scaly skin patches. The process of treating scaling of the skin also involves understanding what your body is allergic to and seeing if there are any possible triggers caused due to allergic reactions.

    In a majority of cases, for scaling, a topical cream is prescribed, which is to be used in combination with an oral medication to address the issue on a deeper level. However, based on the diagnosis, the treatment may vary. For example, for eczema, corticosteroid or immunomodulator cream is recommended, while treatment for psoriasis includes cryosurgery.

    Some of the common treatments include –

    • Chemical Peel Chemical peels are a popular way of treating scaly skin. Peels that are formulated with Trichloroacetic acid (TCA), Retinoic acid, Salicylic acid, Vitamin C, and Phenol, is an effective formula for treating ageing skin, hyperpigmentation, scaly skin and acne. This peel scales the uppermost layer of the skin and reveals a smoother and fresher looking skin beneath. Lactic acid is also commonly used as it is derived from milk and is a type of alpha hydroxy acid that penetrates through the skin to remove the dead skin and reveal a fresher skin
    • Laser Resurfacing – Aging, exposure to sun and other external factors can leave your skin dehydrated, with scars, wrinkles, and scaly patches. And, laser skin resurfacing involves removing the uppermost layer of the skin with extreme precision, such that after the skin heals it evolves into a tighter, fresher, younger-looking skin
    • Cryosurgery – Cryosurgery is a procedure that uses cold liquid nitrogen to treat the scaly patches and skin lesions on the skin by destroying them by freezing. The following are the types of skin lesions and patches that can be treated by cryotherapy –
      • Benign (not cancerous)
      • Precancerous, such as actinic keratosis, which are scaly patches that can be cancerous if not addressed immediately.
      • Superficial skin cancer
    • Hydrocortisone – Hydrocortisone is an over the counter anti-inflammatory steroid that helps in controlling dry and flaky skin. It is known to handle severe cases of dryness and serious skin conditions, such as eczema or dermatitis. But, it is important to consult a dermatologist before considering the use of this steroid.

    Tips To Prevent Scaling Of Skin

    1. Limit exposure to the sun, especially in the peak hours
    2. Lather cream and ointments on your skin soon after you take bath, while there is still moisture on your body
    3. Ensure that you keep your body hydrated by drinking a lot of fluids and moisturizing your skin regularly
    4. Avoid taking hot water bath, especially in winters, as it dries out your skin
    5. Avoid stress and sunburns and treat skin immediately after skin infections and injuries
    6. Limit intake of alcohol as it dehydrates your body
    7. Use gentle cleansers and soaps on the skin
    8. Avoid over exfoliating your skin as it can rip the moisture off


    What does it mean if you have scaly skin?

    Scaly skin is a result of a lot of causes and internal conditions. It could indicate that you have excessively dry skin, fungal infections, and vitamin deficiency.

    What are the common complications from scaly skin?

    Scaling of the skin is due to a lot of factors – lifestyle, internal factors, climatic conditions. Although harmless, if left untreated, chronic scaly skin can lead to potentially serious complications. It is important to seek an expert dermatologist’s help and follow the health care routine designed for you to take care of scaling to reduce potential complications including –

    • Cosmetic disfigurement
    • Open wounds or sores from scratching
    • Scarring
    • Spread of infections

    What are hard scaly patches on the skin?

    Scaly patches can be caused due to various factors. There are several underlying skin issues that could result into skin being flaky. Actinic keratoses is one such condition that causes hard, thick, crusty skin patches. These scaly patches are usually itchy and are as big as pencil eraser.

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    About The Author

    Kushneet Kukreja

    Kushneet Kukreja

    A postgraduate in Biotechnology from Kingston University and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition, Kushneet Kukreja is a passionate writer who works in close association with the dermatologists at our head office to generate valuable and scientifically accurate content for our blog.

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