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Why Is My Skin Scaly? Common Causes and Ways to Treat

Icon > Dry, Itchy or Scaly Skin


Scaly skin can appear on the face and body, most often on the legs, hands and feet. Scaly patches can just be the result of dry skin or skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Understanding Scaly Skin

Scaly skin forms when the outer layer of the skin begins to flake off. This may be due to a combination of factors such as a weak or damaged skin barrier that allows moisture to escape. When the skins natural renewal process is disrupted, a build-up of dead cells may also lead to scaly skin. Additionally, the natural aging process, climate, prolonged submersion in water, and external irritants can lead to patches of dry or scaly skin.

Potential Causes Of Dry, Scaly Skin Patches

While it may go away on its own, scaly skin can also be a symptom of the below conditions.

• Eczema
• Psoriasis
Seborrheic dermatitis
Actinic keratosis
Ichthyosis vulgaris
Athlete’s foot
Skin cancer

Conditions That Cause Scaly Skin

Itchy, red, rough patches, commonly inside the elbows and behind the knees, although it can appear anywhere on the body. Eczema often begins in childhood and it is usually triggered by specific environmental factors.

Psoriasis, leads to inflamed patches of red skin covered with thick, silvery-white scales. Usually seen on the knees, elbows, lower back, palms and soles of the feet, psoriasis requires ongoing medical treatment to relieve dry scaly skin patches and help prevent them from returning.

Flaky, scaly skin on the scalp, eyebrows, sides of the nose and behind the ears can be due to this form of eczema, which can also present as dandruff.

Individual scaly patches on skin with a history of sun exposure can be caused by actinic keratosis. These dark, thickened spots can lead to skin cancer if left untreated.

This common genetic condition prevents dead skin cells from shedding naturally, in turn causing accumulation that resembles fish scales.

If you suspect your dry or scaly skin may be caused by one of the above skin conditions, it's best to see a dermatologist who can offer the most effective treatment options.

How To Improve Dry, Scaly Skin

Introducing hydrating skincare products such as gentle body moisturisers and body cleansers can help improve the appearance of dry, scaly skin. Look for products that contain ceramides to restore the skins barrier and retain hydration. Hyaluronic acid is another essential ingredient as it absorbs moisture like a sponge – it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Gentle exfoliation with ingredients such as salicylic acid and lactic acid can also help to smooth the look and feel of dry, scaly skin provided this is not caused by a medical skin condition.

Seek the advice of a dermatologist as they will be able to determine the cause and suggest appropriate additional treatment options.


1. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/scaly-skin#1
Baumann, L. (2009) Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice (pp.83-91). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical
T. Ruzicka, B. Przybilla, J. Ring (2006) Handbook of Atopic Eczema; 2nd edition; Springer
DiGiovanna, J.J. & Robinson-Bostom, L. Am J Clin Dermatol (2003) 4: 81. https://doi.org/10.2165/00128071-200304020-00002
10. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/athlete-s-foot-how-to-prevent
11. Baumann, L. (2015) Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (pp.77-79). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical
12. Baumann, L. (2015) Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (pp.301-304). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical
13. Baumann, L. (2015) Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (pp.323-324). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical