What Causes Peeling Skin? Diagnosis and Treatment

By Arielle Mitton
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 10, 2022

Is scaly and peeling skin getting you distressed?

Or did you spend an extra amount of time in the sun and are now worried about peeling skin as a consequence? In most cases, peeling skin is just a natural part of life and is not a serious concern.

However, if you suffer from excessively dry, painful, and peeling skin then there might be an underlying issue like eczema, and talking to your healthcare provider would be helpful.

In this article, we’ll explore what exactly skin peeling is and what commonly causes it.

To help you get some relief until you can visit a healthcare professional, we’ll also go through common treatments and precautions you can take for skin peeling. 

What is Peeling Skin?

Our skin is exposed to environmental elements that can irritate and damage it at all times, both indoors and outdoors.

Each person’s skin reacts differently to exposures such as sun, swimming pool chemicals, and air-conditioners. Those prone to eczema may be more sensitive to exposures. 

If your peeling skin is aggressive and excessive, your medical provider may diagnose you with peeling skin syndrome (PSS).

However, this condition is extremely rare and can be treated using topical ointments and solutions. 

Causes

There are many possible causes of skin peeling, including chemical irritants, burns, allergies, stress, autoimmune conditions, and infections.

Here are some common causes: 

Cosmetic Treatments & Procedures

Some cosmetic treatments and procedures like chemical peels, acne treatments, and other skin resurfacing interventions cause the skin to peel as part of its process.

The skin usually heals in time and after the effects of the procedure wear off to produce the desired effects. 

Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Skin that is exposed to the sun for long periods of time and over several years may develop actinic keratosis (AK). This causes the skin to appear flaky and rough with discoloration and pigmentation.

Alongside peeling skin, you may also experience itching skin and bumps. 

Allergic Reaction

One symptom of an allergic reaction could be skin itchiness and peeling as the body tries to recover from any rash or hives that an allergy has caused.

After a medical professional has diagnosed you they may treat any skin allergies with cortisone cream or an antihistamine. 

Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is a fungal skin infection that usually begins as cracked and peeling skin between the toes.

It is a common condition for those whose feet are kept in tight-fitting shoes for long periods of time causing sweat to be trapped.

Keep your feet clean and dry when not wearing footwear, and protect your feet in public areas like locker rooms, swimming pools, and saunas.

Ringworm

A ringworm infection is a fungal infection that looks like a circular rash and causes skin to inflame, become sore, and peel off.

Usually, it is not a serious condition and is easily treatable using antifungal creams.

Ringworm can occur anywhere on your body and spreads easily. 

The best way to avoid contracting ringworm is to keep your skin clean at all times and to avoid coming in close contact with someone who has ringworm. 

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that is triggered when the skin comes in contact with a particular substance like a plant, metal, fabric, chemical, or any other irritant.

It is not a serious condition, nor is it contagious, and most of the time it subsides on its own, even though it can be quite itchy and uncomfortable and may lead to the skin peeling and blistering in rare cases.

Common irritants include perfume, nickel, pesticides, plants, and shampoos.

Allergic Eczema

Allergic eczema, atopic dermatitis, or just eczema are ailments that cause itchy, peeling skin and rash, and can occur all over the body to anyone of any age.

It is usually caused when your body comes in contact with an allergen like dust, pollen, hair dye, perfume, smoke, plants, or any other chemicals and irritants. 

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Psoriasis

In the United States, more than 8 million people have psoriasis — a chronic skin condition that causes dry, scaly skin that peels and can leave red, sore patches on the body.

This autoimmune disease is treatable with topical ointments, vitamins, and anti-inflammatory medications. 

Toxic Shock Syndrome

Although a very serious medical condition, toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is extremely rare.

It is caused by a bacterial infection and can affect anyone of any age. Symptoms of TSS include itchy, patchy peeling skin, fever, headaches, body aches, nausea, diarrhea, and in some cases seizures and disorientation. 

Ichthyosis Vulgaris

Ichthyosis vulgaris is a skin condition that causes thick, dry, “fish-scale”-looking skin, due to the body’s inability to shed dead skin cells.

The condition can be inherited or acquired and is usually managed through lifestyle changes as there is no medication to cure it. 

Seborrheic Dermatitis

This type of eczema affects the scalp and causes the skin on the scalp to peel off into flakes.

Many would identify dandruff as one of the symptoms, but you can also look for flaky, dry skin on the upper back, nose, forehead, and the top of the chest. 

Drug Allergy

Some medications and drugs have side effects that lead to itchy, dry, and peeling skin.

The severity of drug side effects that manifest in the skin can range from mild to life-threatening.

It is always a good idea to contact your medical provider should you have skin reactions to a medication. 

Stasis Dermatitis and Ulcers

Inflammation, ulcers, open sores, patches, and itchiness on the skin of the lower legs are caused by stasis dermatitis.

The condition is caused by poor blood circulation, which usually happens in the legs. 

It is important that you avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Keep yourself active, and don’t sit or stand in the same position for extended periods of time.

If you spend many hours commuting to work or if you sit at a desk for many hours of the day, make sure you take hourly breaks to stretch and move around.

Keep your feet up when sleeping and sitting, and wear compression socks to promote blood circulation.

Hypoparathyroidism

Hypoparathyroidism is a rare condition that occurs when the neck’s parathyroid glands produce too little parathyroid hormone (PTH).

Symptoms include dry, patchy skin, weak fingernails, fatigue, muscle cramps and aches, and hair loss.

It is a rare condition and you will need a medical professional to diagnose it. 

Kawasaki Disease (KD)

According to the Kawasaki Disease Foundation (KDF), more than 4,200 children are diagnosed with this condition every year.

A majority of them are under the age of 5; however, Kawasaki disease (KD) can affect older children as well, although rarely.

Symptoms include dry swollen lips, dry skin on the hands and feet, high fever that lasts several days, swollen lymph nodes, and sore, red eyes with discharge.

Treatment

Many possible treatments can help clear up and soothe the various above-mentioned causes of skin peeling.

It is important to speak to a healthcare provider or one of our medical experts at K Health to determine which treatment option, if any, is right for your situation and symptoms.

Proper Drying After Bathing

It is important to dry your body well after taking a shower or bath to reduce the risk of infections growing in moist areas or worsening eczema.

Avoid rubbing your body with a towel too vigorously as this could worsen peeling skin and cause your skin to get even more dry. 

Hydration

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help keep the skin hydrated and prevent it from peeling.

This is a great way to replenish the skin after a sunburn, and any other time you are dehydrated. Consume hydrating foods and liquids such as watermelons, cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes.

Moisturizer

Moisturize your body often and throughout the day.

This is especially important first thing in the morning, just before bedtime, and immediately after a shower or bath.

Doing this will lock any moisture into the skin before your body dries out too much.

Pay close attention to your hands, elbows, knees, other joints, and crevices that usually go unnoticed and tend to get extra dry. 

Gentle Exfoliants

Sometimes, a gentle exfoliant can help remove any dead skin cells that are in the process of flaking off the top layer of your skin.

Never exfoliate skin that is sunburned or damaged since it can make it worse, increase the pain, and prolong the healing period.

Always consult a medical expert before you undertake any skin exfoliation to remove peeling skin. 

Humidifier

Many people, especially those living in dry climates, use a humidifier to help with mild skin peeling that is triggered by dry skin.

Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can help relieve the dryness of the skin and may help your skin recover. 

Experiencing peeling skin? Chat with a medical provider using K Health.
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When to See a Medical Provider

If you experience severe symptoms or if the peeling of skin does not subside within a few days, reach out to your medical provider.

They can determine the cause as well as the best treatment option for your situation.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my skin peeling?
It is normal for our skin to peel throughout our lives as new layers grow and old layers of skin cells are shed. However, excessive skin peeling could be due to damage from heat, cold, humidity, dryness, or an infection. Protect your skin from harsh elements to keep it from getting damaged.
What deficiency causes skin peeling?
Vitamin B and biotin are essential for healthy hair and skin, and any deficiency in these or other nutrients your body needs could lead to skin peeling, flaky skin, or dry skin.
Is peeling skin serious?
Peeling skin is not serious unless it is excessive, damaged, or causes a hindrance to your life. If you get an allergic reaction, get burnt, are dehydrated, or get exposed to harmful substances, it can cause your skin to damage and peel and may lead to other complications. Consult a medical professional for help immediately.
Is peeling skin good?
Yes, in most cases the peeling of skin is good for exfoliation of dead skin cells and it is your body’s way of expelling damaged layers. Do not pick at peeling skin, simply moisturize and let nature take its course. If you experience excessive and painful peeling skin then get it checked by a healthcare expert.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Arielle Mitton

Dr. Mitton is a board certified internal medicine physician with over 6 years of experience in urgent care and additional training in geriatric medicine. She completed her trainings at Mount Sinai Hospital and UCLA. She is on the board of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation to help women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.