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Chronic superficial scaly dermatitis

Author: Dr Mark Duffill, Dermatologist, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2001.

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Chronic superficial scaly dermatitis — codes and concepts

What is chronic superficial scaly dermatitis?

Chronic superficial scaly dermatitis (CSSD) is an uncommon chronic skin condition characterised by round or oval red, slightly scaly patches on limbs and trunk. It is also known as chronic superficial dermatitis, small plaque parapsoriasis and digitate dermatosis.

Who gets chronic superficial scaly dermatitis? 

Chronic superficial scaly dermatitis mostly affects adults, especially men.

What is the cause of chronic superficial scaly dermatitis? 

The cause of chronic superficial scaly dermatitis is unknown.

What are the clinical features of chronic superficial scaly dermatitis?

Chronic superficial scaly dermatitis begins insidiously with one or more red, slightly scaly patches. The commonest site is on the lower limbs, but the trunk and upper limbs are often affected. It is seldom seen on the face, palms or soles.

The patches are generally round or oval, but finger-like processes are also common especially on the abdomen, and this accounts for the alternative name digitate, or finger-like, dermatosis. The patches are usually about 2.5 cm across, although much larger areas form at times, especially on the lower limbs. The colour is pink, brown or slightly yellow. The individual patches are often slightly wrinkled and appear like cigarette paper.

Symptoms are usually minimal, but some itching may occur. The patches are more prominent in winter than in summer. If they clear with treatment, they tend to recur in the same, or adjacent, areas when it is stopped.

Chronic superficial scaly dermatitis


A skin biopsy is usually necessary to distinguish chronic superficial scaly dermatitis from other skin conditions, particularly cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Under the microscope chronic superficial scaly dermatitis resembles mild eczema .

Complications of chronic superficial scaly dermatitis

Although chronic superficial scaly dermatitis is thought to be completely benign, occasionally patches originally diagnosed as chronic superficial scaly dermatitis prove later to be cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. It is important to see your dermatologist if any change develops in the patches. This might be a change in colour, thickening, increased scaling, and crusting or skin thinning.

What is the treatment of chronic superficial scaly dermatitis?

Not all patients need treatment, as chronic superficial scaly dermatitis is harmless. It is difficult to clear up. The following may be useful:

What is the outcome for chronic superficial scaly dermatitis?

After extending for a time, most cases  remain static and, with minor fluctuations, persist throughout life. In a few patients the condition clears permanently.



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