HomeGeneral MedicinePeeling Skin: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Complications

Peeling Skin: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Complications

Peeling of the skin is usually quite common, especially on the hands, feet, lips, or fingertips.

What is “Peeling Skin”?

Peeling of the skin, also called ‘desquamation’, is the shedding of the topmost layer (epidermis) of your skin. It can happen in a small area or on the whole body. It affects all age groups with several causes attributed. Mostly, it goes away when we apply creams or lotions (over-the-counter products). But in some cases, it may require medical treatment depending on the cause of skin peeling. Thus, it is very important to identify the root cause.

What are the symptoms of peeling skin?

Based on the underlying disease or condition associated with skin peeling, various types of symptoms can be seen which not only affect one’s integumentary system (associated with skin and tissues) but also affects the nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, respiratory system, etc. Peeling of skin can be accompanied by symptoms like:

  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Blisters
  • Dryness
  • Burning
  • Heating up of the affected area
  • Bleeding

Sometimes, these escalate and lead to more symptoms such as:

If you are not able to find the cause of peeling skin but notice these symptoms, then contact your healthcare provider.

Causes for peeling skin

General Causes

  1. Mostly depends on environmental causes.
  2. Weather- Very dry weather, especially during winters can cause your skin to crack and peel.
  3. Sunburn Ultraviolet rays damage your skin and cause rash, soreness, and flaking of skin.
  4. Chemical Exposure– People who work in chemical manufacturing or the cleaning industry are exposed to chemicals daily. Unless wearing protective gear, their skin can get irritated or itchy and start flaking.
  5. Vitamin deficiency can also cause drying and flaking of skin.
  6. Facial creams or ointments having chemicals like retinol, benzoyl peroxide can cause skin peeling.

Medical Conditions

 A few disease conditions can also cause peeling of the skin.

  1. Eczema Also called ‘Atopic dermatitis’ is characterized by reddening and itching of the skin at knuckles, ankles, knee caps, etc. It is a genetic disorder and can be treated.
  2. Contact Dermatitis– When in contact with an allergen or an irritant, the skin of the exposed area turns red and itchy with peeling of the skin.
  3. Exfoliative Keratolysis- A condition wherein the peeling mostly occurs in the summer season and affects young adults. The skin turns red, dry, and cracked with blisters but is not itchy. Usually aggravated with exposure to soaps, detergents, or cleaning agents.
  4. Psoriasis It’s an autoimmune non-contagious disease causing red, dry, peeled inflamed patches on the skin. The person having psoriasis has flare-ups every few months when their condition worsens. These flare-ups are triggered by many factors including diet, humidity, stress, etc. Psoriasis can be brought in control with medication over years but does not have a cure yet.
  5. Infections- Infectious diseases like Scarlet fever, Tinea infections like athlete’s foot and Staphylococcal skin infections can also cause one’s skin to peel.
  6. Cancer treatment– Cancer treatment like chemotherapy might cause your skin to peel. Having skin cancer can also cause flaky skin which leads to peeling.
  7. Epidermal Necrolysis– It is a severe drug reaction that causes the degradation and peeling of the topmost layer of your skin.

When to see a doctor

Peeling of the skin can usually be treated at home with moisturizers and by avoiding exposure to an irritant. However, if there are any underlying medical conditions, a prompt diagnosis should be made. Your health care provider will help you find the cause for skin peeling and will be able to diagnose any allergies that you are unaware of. Your doctor will conduct different patch tests to find your allergies.

You should contact your doctor if

  • If the skin peeling lasts more than 2 weeks
  • If peeling of skin does not improve with moisturizers
  • If there is pain and itching along with the peeling of skin
  • If you have any signs of infection

How to prevent your skin from peeling

Easy lifestyle changes which can prevent skin peeling include:

  • Avoid extreme temperature water baths (Scalding hot or cold), instead, use warm to lukewarm water for bathing or for washing hands or feet.
  • While using any cleaning product (during washing dishes or cleaning toilets), always wear gloves.
  • Use moisturizers daily. Apply moisturizer after you have taken a bath, the moisturizer will form a protective layer on your skin.
  • Use hand creams for dry skin after you have been in contact with water.
  • Use sunscreen with higher SPF (SPF 30 and above) to protect your skin against UV rays.

Complications

To minimize any potential complications arising out of skin peeling, it is very important to determine the cause of skin peeling. Peeling of the skin itself can lead to a variety of complications that may worsen the condition.

  • Fungal or bacterial infection at the skin peeling site leading to cellulitis.
  • Lesions or sores which do not heal
  • Permanent change in skin texture
  • Permanent skin discoloration at the skin peeling site.

Although not uncommon, skin peeling can make you extremely uncomfortable as it mostly occurs on your fingertips, feet, or your hands. Take good care of your skin by moisturizing it regularly and avoiding irritants or chemicals.  Contact your health care provider for a physical exam if the peeling of the skin is unexplained and persistent. The goal of this clinical evaluation will be to find out the root cause underlying for peeling of the skin. If you or someone you are with is experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, please seek prompt medical care.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Will skin peeling occur if been in contact with any new substances or environments or new medication?

Yes. This can be a cause of skin peeling. If the skin peeling does persist or is painful and itchy, contact your healthcare provider and reveal the recent changes in your environment or lifestyle. Reveal if you are taking any new medication or dietary supplements. This can help the doctor to narrow down the things you are allergic to.

Does the peeling of the skin involve mucous membranes in your nose, mouth, genitals, eyes, or anus?

If it persists, seek immediate medical attention from your healthcare provider. Peeling involving mucous membranes can indicate a disease condition or a severe reaction.

What to do if you have been sunburned or exposed to heat for a longer period?

Longer exposure to the sun can cause the UV rays to damage your skin. Apply lotions or creams on the affected area to soothe the reddening and itching.

Will the peeling be restricted to a specific area or onto the whole body?

Peeling of skin on the whole body refers to an underlying disease condition. Peeling restricted to any specific part suggests contact with an irritant.

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