How to Get Rid of Peeling Skin

Peeling skin, also known as desquamation, occurs when the outer layer of your skin is shed as damage to your skin heals. It can be caused by external events, such as a burn, or internal causes, such as a reaction to medication or an autoimmune disease.

In some cases, treatment may be simple and involves over-the-counter (OTC) or home remedies. Peeling skin could also be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires treatment.

Peeling sunburned back

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Causes of Skin Peeling

When the skin peels, it is usually a part of the healing process after it has been damaged. There are many different causes of this damage, including:

  • Sunburns: This is the most common type of burn, and it's caused by exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. 
  • Skin irritation: Skin irritation can occur when the skin is chafed, or rubbed against other skin, clothing, or shoes for prolonged periods of time. 
  • Chemical burns: Household cleaners and some beauty products can lead to chemical burns that can peel.
  • Thermal burns: Thermal burns occur when the skin comes into direct contact with a hot liquid, a hot surface, or fire.
  • Acne treatments: Some types of acne treatments, like those containing retinoids, can cause the skin to peel.
  • Chemical peels: Chemical peels have retinol that helps treat scarring or wrinkles by inducing the upper layer of skin to peel off.
  • Eczema: Otherwise known as atopic dermatitis, eczema can cause the skin to become red and peel. Another type of eczema called dyshidrotic eczema can cause blisters and scales on different parts of the body.
  • Edema: Edema is swelling of the skin that can arise if a person has a blood clot or is suffering from heart failure. As the skin swelling decreases, the top layer of skin will peel.
  • Radiation and chemotherapy: These cancer treatments can lead to skin peeling.
  • Contact dermatitis: In some cases, being exposed to certain allergens or irritants, such as perfume or prolonged water exposure, can cause the skin to peel. Exposure to cold and dry air can also cause peeling.
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome: This infectious disease is caused by various strains of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and can cause the skin to peel.
  • Toxic shock syndrome: Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening bacterial infection that occurs when specific pathogens get into the body and release toxins.
  • Peeling skin syndrome: This condition is considered a genetic disorder and causes the skin to peel all over the body or only on the hands and feet.
  • Viral infections: Different viral infections like measles and mono can cause a rash.

When to See a Doctor

Peeling skin isn’t always serious, but it can be. Symptoms that should prompt you to see your doctor include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Swelling or pain on the skin
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Blisters or hives
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Vision changes
  • Pain in your joints

Treat Underlying Conditions First

If your skin is peeling and you are unsure of the cause, see a doctor in order to help rule out serious health conditions.

The health condition that is causing the skin to peel should be treated first before trying remedies that may do harm. For example, there are no available treatments for peeling skin syndrome, and using home remedies may make the peeling even worse.

How to Get Rid of Peeling Skin

Getting rid of peeling skin depends on what is causing it. For example, if your skin is peeling after you get a sunburn, the best thing you can do is to leave it alone. If the injury is superficial and not serious, there are a few things you can do to help the skin heal.  

Pat Skin Dry After Bathing

After you shower or bathe, pat your skin dry gently as opposed to rubbing it. This is because harsh rubbing with a towel can make peeling skin worse. It can also dry the skin further, causing it to become even more flaky.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated can help keep your skin moisturized, which can reduce peeling overall. When the skin isn’t dry, it is less likely to peel further following skin damage. 

Apply Moisturizer

As soon as you exit the bath or shower, the water on your skin begins to evaporate and your skin dries. This is why you should apply moisturizer right after bathing, when the skin is still damp. This will help lock in the moisture and prevent your skin from drying out. Since dry skin can cause a damaged area to peel more, it’s important to stay moisturized as best as you can.

Use a Gentle Exfoliant

In some cases, a gentle exfoliant can help remove the dead skin cells that are flaking off. However, this should not be done to sunburned skin since it can make the burn worse and prolong the healing period.

Try a Humidifier

Using a humidifier can help with mild skin peeling if it's caused by dry skin. This is because humidifiers add moisture back into the air, which can help relieve dryness of the skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my skin peeling?

Peeling is part of the recovery process for skin that has been damaged. The damage can be caused by external or internal injury. If you’ve recently spent some time out in the sun, it’s likely that your peeling skin is caused by a sunburn. If you are unsure of the cause, see your doctor since your skin can peel when you have an underlying health condition.

How can I heal peeling skin overnight?

There is no quick fix for peeling skin because once it starts, it will likely have to run its course. To help the recovery process along, be sure to dry your skin gently after showering or bathing, stay hydrated, and keep the area covered to avoid any further skin damage.

How do you stop psoriasis from peeling?

Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes red, itchy, scaly patches of skin. It is chronic, has periods of flare-ups and remissions (when skin gets worse and then better), and is not curable, but it can be treated.

To help stop the skin from peeling with psoriasis, you should see your doctor for recommendations on ointments or creams that can help relieve the condition. Some may need to be prescribed. Also, avoid scratching the area, moisturize after you shower or bathe, and wear soft and loose-fitting clothing.

Summary

Peeling skin is a sign that your skin is healing after it's been damaged. The damage can be a result of external or internal factors. Peeling skin caused by external factors like sunburn will typically heal on its own without interventions, but peeling skin caused by an underlying condition needs to be looked at and treated by a doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Peeling skin can be unsightly and irritating to cope with, but it is often not a sign of a serious condition. The good news is that if peeling skin is caused by sunburn, it will heal on its own.

For those who have peeling skin due to an underlying health condition, getting a prompt diagnosis and treatment is vital to recovery. Many conditions that can cause peeling skin will also present with other symptoms. A healthcare professional will be able to assess the cause and help you feel better.

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