What causes peeling skin?

Many conditions, disorders or diseases can cause the skin to peel during the healing phase of the injury. Immediately after exposure to any of the following or if you suspect any of the listed disorders you should be evaluated by a physician. Examples of skin injuries may include:

Healing from direct damage to skin

  • Thermal burns when skin damage may occur after exposure to a hot liquid or surface, or contact with fire
  • Chemical burns when skin damage may occur after a chemical comes into direct contact with the skin. Household cleaners and beauty products or chemicals used in the workplace may cause burns.
  • Skin irritation due to abrasion or friction from shoes or clothing
  • Sunburn is the most common type of burn. It is caused by prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources (such as tanning beds).

Cosmetic procedures or treatments

  • Acne treatments containing retinol/retinoids or benzoyl peroxide
  • Chemical peels or use of face creams containing retinol, typically those used to treat scarring or wrinkles

Medical conditions or treatment side effects (require evaluation and diagnosis by your doctor)

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) may cause the skin to become red and peel
  • Edema (swelling of the skin) typically occurs as a result of a serious medical condition (such as heart failure or a blood clot) but the skin will peel as the swelling decreases
  • Radiation as a treatment for cancer may cause skin peeling but should still be evaluated
  • Chemotherapy reactions should be evaluated by your doctor
  • Contact dermatitis may be caused from exposure to an allergen (such as a perfume) or irritants such as prolonged water exposure
  • Any cause of prolonged skin redness such as an adverse reaction to a medication can cause the skin to peel and requires treatment

Infectious diseases

Many viral or bacterial infections may cause the skin to peel. The examples below are always serious and require treatment:

Genetic or inflammatory diseases also requiring evaluation

  • Kawasaki disease is a rare and serious inflammatory disease that normally occurs in children. It is a type of vasculitis, in which the blood vessels become inflamed throughout the body. Other symptoms include fever, involvement of the eyes and mouth, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Peeling skin syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that can be present on the entire body or just the hands and feet. The condition is usually present at birth, but it may start later in childhood.

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

References

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