An Overview of Scaling Skin

scaly skin on feet
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Scales occur when the outermost layer of the epidermis becomes dry and flaky and peels. The excess of dead skin cells results in the appearance of scaly skin. Scales can be very thin and fine, as with pityriasis rosea, or thick, as with psoriasis.

Scaling skin is also referred to as peeling skin, flaking skin, dropping of scales, and desquamation. On visible parts of the body, like the face, hands, and feet, scaling skin can be particularly embarrassing.

Scales can also become itchy and inflamed.

Causes

Dry, scaling skin can be caused by a number of external factors, including the weather, central heating, hot baths, and harsh soaps and detergents. People who have skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, are more prone to scaling skin.

Scaling skin that isn't brought on by external factors is often a symptom of an existing condition, including, but not limited to:

Diagnosis

Dry skin is common, especially during the winter, so you might "fix" it by applying lotion. But if a moisturizing lotion doesn't improve your skin, you might want to schedule an appointment with your doctor. You should also see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Your skin is dry and red.
  • Your skin is so dry and itchy that it affects your everyday life, including the ability to sleep.
  • You have open sores due to scratching.
  • There are large patches of scaling skin.

Other things to consider include when the scales first appeared and if you started using any new products. The more information you can offer your doctor, including your medical history and symptoms, the more accurate the diagnosis.

Your doctor might refer you to a dermatologist if your condition is out of their wheelhouse.

Treatment

The exact treatment method of scaling skin depends upon what caused the scales and the severity of the condition. In many cases, scaling skin is treated with a topical cream you can pick up at the drugstore. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter cream that contains lactic acid or a combination of lactic acid and urea.

If your skin scales are a sign of atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, or psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe you a topical cream or ointment, like a hydrocortisone. Depending on the severity, oral medication, like a steroid, may be prescribed.

Scaling skin rarely constitutes a medical emergency, but it still happens. An allergic reaction, for example, can become deadly if it isn't dealt with. Seek immediate medical attention if you exhibit any of the following:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

Prevention

There are a number of measures you can take to keep your skin healthy, whether you have a pre-existing skin condition like eczema or not. If your scales appeared due to an allergic reaction, simply avoid your allergens.

Apply lotions that contain emollients or ceramides as needed.

Avoid taking long, excessively hot baths. After bathing, pat the skin dry and apply a moisturizer. Don't use products that contain harsh chemical ingredients. Use gentle cleansers and body care products with added moisturizers.

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