What is Hyperkeratosis?

Hyperkeratosis is when the outer layer of the skin is thickened. The outer layer of the skin will contain keratin, which is a protective protein. It is a form of keratosis, which is a skin disorder caused by over production of keratin. It occurs most often on skin that has been irritated, has pressure on it, or has rubbed against something. Less frequently, it will occur on skin that has not been irritated. This often occurs due to heredity if no irritation is seen. Hyperkeratosis often occurs on large portions of the skin. There are many forms of hyperkeratosis. These include warts, corns and calluses, chronic eczema, seborrheic keratosis, lichen planus, actinic keratosis, and other inherited conditions. There is a good prognosis for hyperkeratosis, however, do note that actinic keratosis can result in squamous cell skin cancer.

Hyperkeratosis Symptoms

Many times, hyperkeratosis is painless. There may be corns, calluses, and warts that can cause some form of discomfort. There may be itchy, scaly patches of skin that is associated with lichen planus.  These patches are often purplish-blue. White spots may appear in the mouth due to friction from dentures. The skin could appear to be scaly and dry and may change colors. Hair loss is commonly seen. Small brown or black growths of skin may appear, but these are harmless and are formed from unknown causes. Red, flat patches that are course are associated with actinic keratosis. There may also be chronic inflammation of the skin (eczema) that is triggered by chemicals, allergies, or other factors.

How to diagnose Hyperkeratosis?

A doctor will be able to diagnose by examining the skin and asking for a family history.  Your doctor will want to know if there is a family history of skin problems, if you are in the sun excessively, have dentures, use smokeless tobacco, chew on your tongue or cheeks, or have a history of allergies.  A skin examination will be performed, and other tests may be ordered.  A biopsy of the skin may be needed to confirm the patient has hyperkeratosis.


Hyperkeratosis Treatment

Treatment for hyperkeratosis includes the use of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid will break up the keratin.  This will shed the thick skin, as well as soften it. Urea topical agents are often prescribed to increase water content in the skin, thus softening it. Urea will also help to break up the keratin. Alpha hydroxy acids can be used on hyperkeratosis to exfoliate the skin, revealing skin that is better able to accept any moisture to keep it soft. Tretinoin can also be used to shed the skin that has become thick.

Many times, depending on where the hyperkeratosis is located on the body, a different treatment will be administered. Corns and calluses may find relief from using padding or moleskin next to the areas that are effected. On lichen planus, it is often helpful to use a corticosteroid cream. Should one have eczema, they could find relief in corticosteroid creams and ointments as well. Seborrheic keratosis can be removed with a scalpel or by using cryosurgery (freezing using liquid nitrogen). Warts are often removed using cryosurgery as well, or they could be cut out or a laser may be used to remove them.  Actinic keratosis can be removed with cryosurgery if the area is small, but lasers will be needed if there are multiple areas of keratosis.

How to Prevent Hyperkeratosis?

Prevention methods for hyperkeratosis include wearing shoes that are comfortable to avoid corns and calluses. Never go into public places, such as locker rooms or rest rooms, without shoes on the feet. Should you need to use a public shower, leave thongs or socks on the feet. If you have eczema, avoid using harsh soaps and deodorants on the skin. Do not take bubble baths and avoid dry air. Avoid triggers that cause allergies.


7 replies
  1. Josephine K.
    Josephine K. says:

    I have inherited my hyperkeratosis. Sadly there is not a cure for this. I have large areas of my skin that are effected. Not really the most pleasant but I do stay on top of it so that it does not flare up. I use a bath oil every night after I shower to help keep my skin soft, or else my skin is rough and thick. I also use a good moisturizing cream before I get dressed in the morning and never leave the house without a tube of lotion in my purse.

  2. Precaution is the key
    Precaution is the key says:

    I always wear flip flops in public shower houses. We go camping quite frequently in the summer, and we deal with using public shower houses. I will not step foot in one without my flip flops on. I have a special pair reserved for taking showers. I also pack them when we stay in hotels, as I am always concerned at how well the staff clean the tubs. I have been told that I am too obsessive about things like this, but I do not care. I want to protect my feet from getting things such as athletes foot. I have never heard of hyperkeratosis, but now I am glad that I always take the time to wear my shoes in public places like this.

    • Darren
      Darren says:

      If hyperkeratosis was infectious, your precautions would be relevant. As it is not, it really makes no difference whether you were your special flip flops in the shower or not.

  3. Ostrige feet
    Ostrige feet says:

    I had hyperkeratosis on my feet. Oh my, did it ever look awful. My feet were dry and they did itch, but it just looked liked I did not take care of them, which was the furthest thing from the truth. I am not on a regimen to use salicylic acid on my feet, which really does soften them. I would have never guessed this was possible. I always heard of using salicylic acid for acne and on the face, but never guessed it would be for hyperkeratosis as well. My skin does not appear to be as thick as it once was, and my feet are slowly looking better. It is a daily process for me to make sure that my feet are looking good. Or at least improving. I am not sure if this helps or not, but I also make sure to rotate my shoes so they can air out well before I wear them next. I guess even if it does not help, it is still good practice for my feet.

  4. Olive
    Olive says:

    I am sort of confused with the whole denture thing. So do sores appear in the mouth from the dentures not fitting properly? How do they treat this condition? Obviously, it would be great for someone that was suffering from this to perhaps get new dentures that fit better, but not everyone can afford that. Do the white spots that form in the mouth from the hyperkeratosis itch or hurt? How do they cure this?

  5. Nunny
    Nunny says:

    I have had corns and calluses on my feet due to hyperkeratosis. They can be rather painful from shoes that rub against them. I have used over the counter methods to remove them, and they seem to work rather well. Last fall, I also suffered from a wart on my foot. It hurt more than the corns and calluses. I finally went to the doctor for it, and had the wart cut out. I found relief that way. Many often cringe at the thought of getting a wart cut out of the skin, but honestly, it felt better than the pain that it was causing rubbing on my foot.

  6. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I have also inharited the disoder it began at 13 i was treated by pill but i was a minor so i don’t remember what it was.I found it dried up and i could peel it off it reveiled new soft skin for 10 yrs. It came back years later. i am 55 now use the urea cream. If anyone knows what the pill was that worked please contact me.


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