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Scaly skin conditions


Skin diseases that have excessive scale or flaking (papulosquamous disorders) are due to epidermal inflammation or proliferation. We list localised and generalised scaly skin disorders by their duration and body site

Localised scaly rash present for < 6 weeks

Dermatophyte infections

Generalised scaly rash present for <6 weeks with fever

Scarlet fever

  • Scarlatiniform rash (redness then rough spots)
  • Strawberry tongue
  • Peeling starts after 5 days of illness
  • Evidence of streptococcal infection

Kawasaki syndrome

  • Child aged < 14 years
  • Starts as morbilliform or erythematous rash
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Oral and ocular signs
  • Lymphadenopathy

Exfoliative dermatitis

Generalised scaly rash present for < 6 weeks without fever

Pityriasis rosea

  • Herald patch
  • Oval 2–4 cm pink plaques on trunk with peripheral, trailing scale
  • Spares scalp, peripheries

Acute guttate psoriasis

  • Round 0.5–3 cm red plaques with diffuse scale
  • Trunk > limbs
  • May involve all body sites

Pityriasiform or lichenoid drug eruption

  • New drug (eg hydroxychloroquine)

Localised scaly rash present for > 6 weeks

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

  • In and around hair-bearing scalp, eyebrows, hairy chest
  • Skin folds behind ears, nasolabial fold, axilla
  • Salmon pink, flaky


  • Localised variant
  • Scalp, elbows, knees or palms and soles

Discoid lupus erythematosus

  • Face, ears, scalp > upper trunk, hands
  • Scale is due to plugged follicles
  • Leads to scarring

Pityriasis versicolor

  • Flaky rash on trunk
  • White, red, brown variants

Keratosis pilaris

  • Upper arms > thighs > cheeks
  • Hair follicles plugged with scale

Annular erythema

  • Crops of slowly enlarging erythematous annular plaques on trunk
  • Trailing scale

Palmoplantar keratoderma

  • Thickened skin of palms and soles
  • Congenital and acquired, punctate and diffuse variants

Crusted scabies

  • Scale is prominent between fingers, elbows, scalp
  • May or may not be very itchy
  • Contacts have scabies

Widespread tinea corporis

  • Irregular annular plaques
  • Peripheral scale


  • Dry skin (see below)

Chronic plaque psoriasis

  • Symmetrical well-circumscribed plaques with silvery scale
  • Generalised large or small plaques

Lichen planus

  • Bilateral but asymmetrical firm papules, plaques
  • Polygonal shape
  • Scale is variable

Pityriasis lichenoides

  • Trunk and limbs
  • Skin coloured or red flat or indurated papules/small plaques
  • Mica scale (peels off in one sheet)

Pityriasis rubra pilaris

  • Psoriasis-like symmetrical or erythrodermic scaly rash
  • Orange-red hue
  • Follicular prominence

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma

  • Slowly evolving slightly scaly annular and roundish patches, plaques and sometimes nodules
  • Various morphologies including erythroderma
  • Buttocks, breasts common initial sites

Dermatitis neglecta

  • Build-up of scale due to avoidance of washing

Scaly condition by body site

Solitary scaly lesions

Scaly Scalp

Scaly patches on the face

Scaly patches on arms and legs

Scaly skin folds

Scaly patches on the trunk

Scaly patches anywhere or everywhere

Scaly palms and soles



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