What is peeling skin?
Peeling skin happens when your body sheds some of your skin’s outer layer called the epidermis. The peeling or flaking process is your skin’s way of recovering or healing from some type of damage. The damage may be from environmental elements, skin conditions, allergies, infections or certain diseases and treatments. The medical term for peeling skin is desquamation.
What does peeling skin look like?
The part of peeling skin that you see is your epidermis. This is the outermost layer of your skin and also the thinnest layer. Even though your epidermis is thin, it plays an important role in protecting your body against bacteria and germs. It also makes new skin cells to replace the thousands of cells that die off every day.
Peeling skin may be:
What conditions can cause your skin to peel?
Peeling skin can be the result of:
Genetic or inflammatory diseases
- Kawasaki disease.
- Peeling skin syndrome.
- Group A streptococcal infections like scarlet fever.
- Staph infections like impetigo.
- Toxic shock syndrome.
- Allergic reactions, including contact dermatitis, skin rashes and Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
- Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) and jock itch (tinea cruris).
- Dry skin.
- Edema (fluid retention and swelling).
- Seborrheic dermatitis.
- Skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis and erythrodermic psoriasis.
Care and Treatment
How do healthcare providers diagnose the cause of peeling skin?
A dermatologist, a medical doctor who specializes in skin conditions, can determine what’s causing your skin to peel. Your healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and ask about your medical and family histories. You should provide the names and dosages of any medications, vitamins and supplements that you take.
You may get tests to diagnose or rule out conditions that cause peeling skin. These tests may include:
How do healthcare providers treat peeling skin?
Treatments for peeling skin vary depending on the underlying cause. You may need:
- Allergy medications.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
What are home remedies for peeling skin?
You should let peeling skin slough off naturally. The peeling is part of your skin’s natural healing process. Picking at or pulling off peeling skin can create an opening that lets in bacteria. This increases your risk of infection.
If you have peeling skin, these actions may help:
- Apply fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizing cream or ointment (they’re thicker than lotions). Or apply aloe vera to soothe a sunburn.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your skin well hydrated.
- Seek help to quit smoking (nicotine damages your skin).
- Shower (don’t bathe) in warm water (hot water is drying).
- Take steps to protect yourself from sun damage.
- Use a humidifier to put moisture into the air.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call the doctor?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Having skin that peels can make you self-conscious about your appearance. There are many causes of peeling skin, which is why it’s important to see your healthcare provider. They can evaluate your symptoms and perform tests (if needed) to determine the underlying cause. This ensures you start the right treatment to stop your skin from peeling. Don’t pick at skin that’s peeling, as it interferes with your skin’s healing process and puts you at risk for infection. Your healthcare provider can recommend gentle skin products that ease and prevent peeling skin.
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