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Peeling Skin: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Our skin is daily exposed to many environmental elements, these include sun, wind, heat, dryness and humidity which can irritate and damage the skin. Repeated irritation of the skin can cause skin peeling.

In newborn babies, we often see dryness and peeling skin after birth which is harmless and normal [1]. But peeling skin can also occur due to a disease or an underlying medical condition.

What Is Peeling Skin?

Peeling skin (desquamation) is the damage to and loss of the upper layer of the skin (epidermis) which can occur due to sunburn, infection or any other diseases. Rash, dryness and other skin problems can also accompany skin peeling [2].


What Causes Peeling Skin?

Sunburn - Overexposure to sun causes redness, swelling and blisters on the skin which occurs within 12 to 24 hours after exposure and gradually lessens, which is followed by peeling and hyperpigmentation [3].

Climate - Harsh environment can affect the skin on your hands. For example, extreme hot or cold temperatures can cause peeling of the skin [4].

Chemicals - Chemicals used in peeling agents which are applied to the skin for exfoliation can irritate the skin and cause skin peeling [5].

Overwashing - No doubt, washing your hands is a good hygiene habit, but overwashing your hands can cause the skin to peel.

Burns - Thermal burns, resulting from contact with heated objects can damage the skin and cause skin peeling. Chemical burns occur when you come in direct contact with household cleaners, solvents and detergents that can cause burns and lead to peeling of the skin [6].

Acne treatments - Retinoid medications that are used for the treatment of acne can cause peeling skin [7].

Medical conditions or diseases can also cause peeling skin, these include:

• Medication side effects causing allergic reactions [8]

• Infections

• Immune system disorders

• Genetic disease

• Cancer and cancer treatment [9]

• Eczema [10]

• Athlete's foot

• Contact dermatitis

• Dry skin

• Kawasaki disease [11]

• Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma

• Hyperhidrosis

• Jock itch

• Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

• Psoriasis

• Pemphigus

• Scarlet fever

• Ringworm on the body and scalp

• Seborrheic dermatitis [12]

• Stevens-Johnson syndrome

• Toxic shock syndrome

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Symptoms Of Peeling Skin

• Dry skin

• Flaky skin

• Discolouration of the skin


Complications Of Peeling Skin

• Bacterial infections

• Dehydration, if a significant amount of the skin is involved

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When To See A Doctor

If skin peeling occurs due to overwashing or sunburn then it can be taken care of with the use of over-the-counter lotions and moisturisers. However, consult a dermatologist before you apply these home remedies. And if skin peeling is the result of a disease or medical condition, then consult a dermatologist immediately.


Diagnosis Of Peeling Skin

The dermatologist will first physically examine you and ask about your medical history, if you take any medications or dietary supplements, for how long has the skin been peeling and whether it occurs in a specific area or all over the body and if you have been exposed to any allergens or substances.

If the doctor suspects of an infection or a disease, other tests may be performed.

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Treatment Of Peeling Skin

Depending on the cause of peeling skin, the treatment is done.

• Over-the-counter topical medications such as ointments and creams can provide relief from certain skin conditions that cause peeling of the skin [13]

• For treating minor burns, applying cold compress for up to ten minutes to cool the burned area.

• Apply petroleum jelly to minor burns twice or thrice a day [14].

• Avoid exposure to sunlight by wearing sunglasses, applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.

Common FAQs

Q. Is it bad to peel peeling skin?

A. Yes, attempting to remove or peel the skin will cause further damage to the skin. It is advisable to allow the skin to heal on its own.

Q. What vitamin deficiency causes skin to peel?

A. Niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency can cause the skin to peel.

Q. Should I moisturise peeling skin?

A. Moisturising the peeled skin caused by sunburn can help soothe the skin and help it to heal faster.

Q. Why are my feet peeling so bad?

A. It can be due to sunburns, infections, psoriasis or eczema.

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