Ichthyosis: etiology, diagnosis, and management

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(2):81-95. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200304020-00002.


The ichthyoses are a heterogeneous group of disorders with both inherited and acquired forms. Clinical presentation, pattern of inheritance, and laboratory evaluation may establish a precise diagnosis, which can assist in prognosis and genetic counseling. Congenital autosomal recessive ichthyosis (CARI) usually presents at birth, often as a collodion baby. CARI can progress into any one of a spectrum of disorders. Lamellar ichthyosis is characterized by dark, plate (armor)-like scale. This disease is often caused by mutations in the gene encoding the enzyme transglutaminase 1. Congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma is another phenotype within CARI, marked by generalized redness and fine white scale. Epidermolytic hyperkeratosis is an autosomal dominant disorder characterized by hyperkeratosis and blistering, and at least six clinical phenotypes have been described. It may be due to mutations in the gene encoding the intermediate filament proteins keratin 1 and 10. Ichthyosis vulgaris is the most common ichthyosis, and is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. Involvement is generally mild and may vary greatly with climate and humidity. X-linked ichthyosis, due to a defect in the enzyme steroid sulfatase, affects males with generalized scaling that usually begins soon after birth. There may be associated corneal opacities that do not affect vision. Sjögren-Larsson syndrome is an autosomal recessive ichthyosis associated with progressive spastic paralysis and mental retardation. This condition is caused by mutations in the gene for fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase. Refsum's disease, due to accumulation of phytanic acid, results in ichthyosis and progressive neurologic dysfunction. The erythrokeratodermas are characterized by hyperkeratosis and localized erythema. Erythrokeratodermia variabilis is autosomal dominant and characterized by generalized or localized hyperkeratosis and migratory red patches. Mutations in the genes encoding the gap junction proteins, connexins, underlie this disorder. Netherton's syndrome is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by ichthyosis, a hair shaft abnormality and atopy. The ichthyosis may present at birth with erythroderma or in some cases a collodion presentation. However, a frequent characteristic skin manifestation is ichthyosis linearis circumflexa. Netherton's syndrome has been found to be due to an abnormality in a serum protease inhibitor. Acquired ichthyosis can have a variety of underlying causes including neoplastic, infectious, drugs, endocrine, metabolic, autoimmune, malabsorptive states, and hereditary. Topical, and in more severe cases, systemic, therapy are useful in managing this array of disorders of cornification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Ichthyosis / diagnosis
  • Ichthyosis / etiology*
  • Ichthyosis / therapy*
  • Keratolytic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lubrication
  • Medical History Taking
  • Physical Examination
  • Retinoids / therapeutic use


  • Keratolytic Agents
  • Retinoids