The Girl Who Sheds Her Skin



  1. rare-disease-girl-sheds-skin-240sl02032011.jpg
Every day, 5-year-old Annabelle Whitehouse sheds her skin. All of it.

The child was born with a genetic disorder known as ichthyosis, which causes her skin to be red and scaly, hardening easily and falling off frequently, one layer at a time.

"It's like snakeskin, that sheds and comes off," her mother Sonia Whitehouse tells the "Today" show.

Annabelle, who lives in Britain, needs to have bandages put on her skin multiple times a day. Her parents have to apply a full-body exfoliating lotion to the little girl every night to prevent her skin from turning into hard, thick scales. Her face and hands need to be exfoliated every 30 minutes.

Most people lose a layer of their skin about every two weeks. Annabelle sheds one a day.

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, said treatment for severe ichthyosis like Annabelle's is usually topical or pill-form vitamin A and an exfoliating moisturizer containing lactic acid.

"In cases which are more severe, you have defects in the outer layer of the skin," he told AOL Health. "It can result in a fish-like scale. [The vitamin A treatments] help correct the abnormality in the skin cells."

Some have a mild form of the condition related to eczema, said Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the hospital's dermatology department. Others have an extreme case that causes hair and nails to grow rapidly and thick skin that looks dirty and smells bad.

The disorder is embarrassing for sufferers like little Annabelle.

A taxi driver once "asked me if I put her in the microwave," her mother tells the show. "So, a little insensitive."

She also had trouble at school with her classmates, but her mom helped remedy the situation by explaining her condition to the other children.

"The hardest part to deal with is when Annabelle does come out and say, 'I wish I didn't have skin like that,'" Whitehouse says. "To me, as a mother, that's like a knife through my heart."