50+ Health Conditions

13 Reasons You Have Scaly Skin

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Why you have dry, itchy, scaly skin

Call it the scales of injustice! From unlucky genes to fungal infections, there are lots of explanations for why your skin is rough, crusty, flaking, and peeling. The good news: Scaly skin is hardly ever contagious (phew!). But it can be super annoying and, occasionally, even a sign of something serious. Here are 13 of the most common reasons you have scaly skin.

Psoriasis

If you develop raised red patches with a silvery-white coating over your knees, elbows, lower back, or scalp, you probably have plaque psoriasis. It’s the most common form of psoriasis, a chronic disease that seriously speeds the process by which skin cells mature and reach the skin’s surface. Because the rate at which old cells are shed remains unchanged, the new cells stack up and become thickened patches covered by the dead, flaking skin.

The precise cause of psoriasis isn’t known. “Something is happening at the level of the T-cell, one of the immune cells in our body, that signals the skin to overproduce,” explains Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. Heredity is definitely a factor—about one-third of sufferers have a close family member who’s also affected, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Psoriasis can begin at any age—“You can come out of the womb with it or develop it late in life,” says Dr. Gohara—but most people get it between ages 15 and 30. Three-quarters of people who are going to develop psoriasis have it by age 40.

Psoriasis can come and go with varying degrees of severity, and attacks may be triggered by emotional stress, skin injury, and physical illness. There’s no cure for the condition, but many treatments are available, and your dermatologist will chose the right one based on the degree of your psoriasis and where on the body it occurs.

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