What is peeling skin?

Peeling skin, or desquamation, is a common condition in which the outer layer of skin (epidermis) is shed. It is associated with healing from damage to the skin from either internal or external causes, such as burns or exposure to environmental irritants such as the sun or wind. Peeling skin may also accompany internal disorders or diseases such as the healing stage of a rash.

Superficial loss of skin cells is a normal ongoing process, as the body continuously produces new skin cells and eliminates aging cells from the outer layer. This loss of skin cells is typically neither noticeable nor unusual. Noticeable peeling may occur on a small section of skin or all over the body, depending on the cause of skin injury.

Deep skin injury may cause blisters, be painful, or leave ulcers and raw skin behind. This pattern of skin injury can also be caused by external events such as a burn or internal causes such as a medication reaction or autoimmune disease. Painful skin diseases are typically serious or life-threatening unless treated promptly.

What are the symptoms of peeling skin?

Symptoms of peeling skin can vary, depending on the underlying condition or disorder responsible for skin loss.

Symptoms may include:

  • Skin dryness
  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Thin scaling

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/21/2018.


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