Dermatitis neglecta (DN) refers to a skin condition that occurs from a lack of hygiene. Also called dermatosis neglecta, this is just one type of dermatitis.

Washing the skin is essential to your overall health. Not only do you cleanse germs and grease, but proper bathing also removes dead skin cells and other agents that can build up on the skin. When you don’t bathe adequately for a long period, DN can result in a scaly buildup.

Despite the concerning physical traits of DN, it’s extremely treatable. For some people, simply resuming bathing properly clears up the condition. Others might need the help of over-the-counter products to remove excess skin. Despite the ease of treatment, it’s important to see a dermatologist (skin doctor) for a proper diagnosis first to be sure that your symptoms aren’t being caused by another condition.

Dermatoses »

Your body goes through the process of skin cell turnover about every 30 days. As new skin cells emerge, old ones shed. Dead skill cells are often eliminated naturally through daily washing.

In DN, skin cells can accumulate.

Overall symptoms of DN include:

  • scales that resemble cornflakes
  • hyperpigmentation
  • stubborn scales that stick to the skin

The scaly markers of DN are a combination of:

  • bacteria
  • corneocytes (cells that compose the outer most part of the epidermis)
  • dirt
  • sebum (oil)
  • sweat

DN is primarily caused by a lack of hygiene. However, the precise causes might be more complex than simply not washing the skin properly.

While DN is a type of dermatitis, it’s not one of the more common forms. The term dermatitis itself refers to skin inflammation. This might show up in the form of redness, rashes, or scales on the skin. Dermatitis is common, and it has a variety of causes, including allergies (eczema) or chemical sensitivities (contact dermatitis).

What makes DN different from other forms of dermatitis is that it can be easily prevented and controlled. In some cases, age, family history, and underlying illnesses (such as HIV) can play a role in dermatitis. However, DN is prevented and treated with proper hygiene.

Chronic disability: Chronic disability is a large risk factor for DN. Having a physical disability can make bathing and basic scrubbing more challenging, especially in hard to reach areas of the skin.

Age: DN is more common in older people because of a decrease in self-care. Surgery, cancer therapies, and immobility are also risk factors.

Sensitive skin: People with sensitive skin may also be more prone to DN. When your skin is sensitive, you might neglect washing certain areas to avoid irritation. This lack of washing can cause the scaly buildup prominent in cases of DN.

Trauma: A purposeful lack of washing may also occur in people who have recently had some form of trauma. For example, an injury or even recent surgery might prevent adequate washing because of a cast or overall discomfort.

Mental health conditions: DN has also been seen in certain mental health conditions that might impair self-care, such as schizophrenia.

DN is diagnosed by a dermatologist, a type of doctor that specializes in diseases of the skin. They may be able to diagnose DN based on a physical evaluation. Your health history will also be discussed, including possible barriers to personal hygiene. All of these factors are important in diagnosing dermatitis that evolves from skin care neglect, as opposed to other forms of dermatitis.

Your doctor will also help determine whether your symptoms are caused by DN or another condition. A sample may be collected from the skin and analyzed (skin biopsy).

Once you’re diagnosed with DN, you may find the condition easy to treat compared with other skin problems. Mild cases of DN may be treated simply by washing the affected areas of skin. A clean washcloth is preferable over a loofah. You may find that simply scrubbing the affected areas will start to improve DN symptoms right away. According to the Dermatology Online Journal, the friction created by scrubbing with soap and a washcloth can significantly improve the skin condition within weeks.

Rubbing alcohol is another treatment option. Isopropyl alcohol wipes or swabs can help clear rashes without causing pain.

More severe cases of DN may take more than bathing with soap and water. In addition to daily washing, your doctor may recommend a keratolytic agent, such as salicylic or glycolic acid. These help to thin the skin to remove stubborn scales. While over-the-counter solutions are available, your doctor may prescribe stronger formulas if such products don’t do the trick.

A guide to taking care of your skin »

Clearing DN may take up to a few months. Once diagnosed, DN is fairly easy and inexpensive to treat. If any patches on the skin begin to ooze or bleed, you may need to see your doctor to treat possible infection.

The Dermatology Online Journal reports that cases of DN are on the rise in the United States. This may be attributed to the aging of the large baby boomer population. Unfortunately, DN is also underreported because the condition is often mistaken for something else. Seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis may be confused with DN. Therefore, a proper diagnosis from a dermatologist remains crucial. Awareness of DN can also help prevent a misdiagnosis.

Daily scrubbing can prevent DN from coming back. You can help prevent DN in yourself and loved ones by:

  • taking daily baths
  • washing all areas of the skin
  • ensuring proper self-care after surgery
  • hiring a caregiver
  • enlisting the help of family members
  • using fragrance-free cleansers