Lamellar ichthyosis (LI) is characterized by generalized scaling of the skin and is often resistant to ordinary emollients. Recently, Locobase(R) fatty cream containing a mixture of 5% lactic acid and 20% propylene glycol (LPL) was found to be markedly effective in a pilot study. To consolidate this finding, a double-blind study comparing LPL with the corresponding mixture in Essex(R) (Diprobase(R)) cream (LPE) and Locobase(R) fatty cream containing either 5% urea or 20% propylene glycol was conducted in 20 patients with LI. Before and after applying the creams twice daily on each of the four extremities for 4 weeks, the following investigations were performed: scoring of xerosis, scaling and erythema, measurements of skin hydration (capacitance) and transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and moulding of the skin surface (replicas). Xerosis was reduced by all four creams, but significantly more so by LPL (P < 0.001) and LPE (P < 0.01). Scaling was only reduced by LPL (P < 0.001) and LPE (P < 0.01), which also caused a slight increase in the erythema score (P < 0.05 for both). The patients' weekly evaluation of symptoms showed that LPL produced the most rapid effect: the response rate after 4 weeks was 63%. Skin hydration and TEWL were both significantly increased by LPL and LPE, whereas skin roughness was reduced most by LPL. Fourteen patients preferred LPL over the other cream formulations. Ten patients continued using LPL for up to 8 weeks with good results and no side-effects other than occasional irritation in the skin folds. LPL is a major advance in the topical treatment of LI that suits most patients. Some patients, however, seem to prefer the more hydrophilic LPE formulation. Both formulations effectively reduce hyperkeratosis and xerosis, but may cause slight irritation and adversely affect the epidermal barrier function.