Peeling skin

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 27, 2015
StartSymptomsPeeling skin

When it comes to shielding our bodies from the outside world, the skin is on the front line of protection. The largest organ of the body has many functions, and it is also what other people see. Many people deal with problems that can cause redness or peeling skin, leading to embarrassment and feeling uncomfortable in day to day life. Fortunately, there are as many treatments as there are causes for skin-related issues.


Definition & Facts

The skin provides a protective layer on the body, shielding from microbes and environmental toxins. It also helps regulate internal body temperature. There are three layers of skin. The hypodermis is the deepest layer and is made out of connective tissue and fat.

The dermis is in the middle, and contains sweat glands, hair follicles, and is made of strong connective tissue. The top layer is called the epidermis, and this creates a waterproof barrier and provides the skin tone. The epidermis is the skin layer that everyone can see, and the layer that can cause problems for people.

Because it is the outermost layer, the epidermis is exposed regularly to all of the elements of the outside world, including the sun, heat, cold, wind, and more. It's no surprise that many people experience peeling skin from repeated exposure to irritating elements.


Sometimes the elements are all it takes for the skin to began to peel. During the cold, dry months of some regions, it is common for the skin to dry out and began peeling. People can also experience a lot of skin peeling after getting a sunburn, or repeated exposure to the sun. There are many other factors, however, that can cause this sort of skin reaction.

Some people have allergic reactions to certain things that can cause peeling, such as certain types of beauty products, cosmetics, lotions, detergents, or soaps can irritate the skin. Peeling can also occur as a symptom of certain types of infections like staph and fungal infections. Immune system disorders can compromise the skin strength, and it's also common for cancer patients receiving treatment to experience peeling skin.

Many other skin diseases and disorders can cause this as well; athletes foot, contact dermatitis, jock itch, scarlet fever, psoriasis, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, hyperhidrosis, eczema, and ringworm. There is also a genetic skin disorder called Acral peeling skin syndrome, which is just painless peeling of the skin.

When to see a doctor

Most of the time, skin peeling is painless and doesn't mean there are any other underlying issues. It's normally unnecessary to see a doctor when the cause of peeling is known, and is simply from a sunburn or exposure to wind.

There isn't much a doctor would be able to do, besides provide instructions on how to take care of it from home. If, however, the peeling is extreme, or doesn't respond to any at-home remedies, it may be wise to see a doctor. If there is no clear reason for skin peeling, or if there is any pain, signs of infection, or discomfort, then it may be time to see a doctor.

In this case, it's best to avoid using any home remedies or over the counter lotions until a doctor can make a proper diagnosis. Some things may make peeling worse. Most people are tempted to peel the skin off, but this can lead to infection or more irritation. Instead of pulling at the skin pieces, use sterile scissors to cut off loose skin that is peeling.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for peeling skin varies according to what is causing it. For peeling caused by sunburn, it's important to keep the skin moisturized. Do this by applying moisturizing lotion with aloe vera. Aloe vera is the most common thing used to treat sunburn. It helps hydrate the skin and cool it down, slow down peeling, and reduce the inflammation.

Mint leaves can also be used to stop the peeling process; they can be crushed in a bowl and the juice applied to the peeling skin. Cold compresses can also be used to help reduce the heat of the skin and slow down he peeling process. Moisturizing lotion is important for any treatment for peeling skin. Olive oil also makes an excellent moisturizer; simply warm a small amount and massage into the skin.

Oatmeal baths can greatly reduce any irritation or itching that may accompany peeling skin. It's also soothing and helps retain natural moisture in the skin. For conditions such as dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin which can cause rash and peeling, treatment could include over the counter hydrocortisone cream, prescription corticosteroid cream and an oral antihistamine. If there is any infection, an antibiotic may be necessary. Severe cases may even require corticosteroid injections or pills.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Of course, taking preventative measures will help minimize or even avoid any skin-related irritations that could lead to dryness or peeling. A person's diet can play a big factor in skin health; eating a well balanced and nutritious diet can prevent many skin disorders which can lead to peeling.

Make sure to get enough vitamins A and B, as well as iron. There is also a wide range of vitamins and supplements available that are created specifically for skin health, such as antioxidant supplements that contain vitamins C and E. For external options, there is also a large amount of lotions, creams, and oils designed for optimizing skin health, including elasticity and smoothness.

It's best to minimize sun exposure and make sure to always apply sunscreen when going outdoors. Make sure the sunscreen protects against bot UVA and UVB rays and has a high SPF rating. Wearing layers and hats can help, as well. When being exposed to extreme colds or winds, make sure to apply moisturizers as well, and keep things like petroleum jelly and lip balm handy in case of severe dryness.

Avoid showers or baths that are too hot, and avoid soaps or other body products which can cause severe dryness or irritation. Water is also important; getting the right amount daily can also keep the skin hydrated.