What Causes Skin Peeling?

Medically Reviewed By Bukky Aremu, APRN
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There are various reasons why you might experience skin peeling. These reasons range from burns to chronic conditions. This article will discuss some common causes of skin peeling. It will also talk about when to contact a doctor, treatment, and prevention.

Burns

Female applying sunscreen to another female's back
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Burns involve damage to your skin, typically due to heat. There are different types of burns. However, they may cause similar pain as well as:

  • skin peeling
  • redness or discoloration
  • blisters
  • area swelling
  • white or charred skin

Sunburns

Sunburns result in damage to your skin from exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Overexposure and unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to:

  • premature wrinkles and aging
  • age spots
  • increased risk of skin cancer

Symptoms of a sunburn typically begin around 4 hours after exposure. They tend to worsen within the first 24–36 hours and subside in 3–5 days. Symptoms of sunburn include:

Skin peeling due to a sunburn typically begins around 3–8 days after the initial exposure.

Tips for sunburn prevention

  • Cover up.
  • Apply sunscreen that has a sun protection factor of 30 or higher.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
  • Seek out the shade.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses.
  • Avoid indoor tanning beds.

Read about home remedies for sunburn relief.

Chemical burn

Chemical burns result from exposure to acid or other chemicals. Experts consider them a medical emergency. If you experience a burn after exposure to any chemical, get medical care right away.

Symptoms of a chemical burn include:

  • redness or discoloration, irritation, and burning at the contact area
  • pain or numbness in the affected site
  • formation of black dead skin

Thermal burn

Thermal burns result from an external heat source that changes the temperature of your skin. This typically causes tissue death or charred skin. Common causes of thermal burns include:

  • hot surfaces
  • scalding liquids
  • steam
  • flames

Eczema

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition. There are several types of eczema, and it is a common skin condition. Around 31 million people in the United States experience eczema.

Itchy skin is the most typical symptom of eczema. Other symptoms include:

  • dry, sensitive skin
  • inflamed skin
  • discoloration
  • rough or scaly patches of skin that can flake off
  • crustiness or oozing
  • areas of swelling

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema. It results from contact with a certain substance. One of the most common causes of contact dermatitis in the U.S. is poison ivy.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic form of eczema. It typically appears on areas of the body with oil, like the:

  • scalp
  • nose
  • upper back

Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • scaly skin patches
  • redness or discoloration beneath skin patches
  • skin patches appearing greasy or moist
  • yellowish-white scales that tend to flake off

Learn tips for easing eczema.

Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare yet potentially life threatening condition. It results from an infection due to certain types of bacteria.

Symptoms of TSS typically come on suddenly and worsen quickly. Early diagnosis and treatment are important as TSS can quickly become fatal. The symptoms include:

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is an infection of the feet and skin due to various types of fungi. It most commonly appears in the area between the toes. However, it can affect any part of the foot.

Athlete’s foot is typically spread through skin-to-skin contact or by coming into contact with the fungi in damp areas like:

  • showers
  • locker rooms
  • swimming pools

Symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • red or discolored skin
  • cracked and flaky skin
  • itchiness
  • white thickened skin
  • area swelling

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition. It speeds up the growth cycle of your skin cells. Psoriasis affects more than 7.5 million adults in the U.S.

Plaque psoriasis is the most common type. Symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:

  • raised and inflamed patches of scaly skin that may flake off
  • itchiness
  • pain
  • red with a silvery-white buildup on skin with less pigment
  • purple, grayish, or dark brown and thicker patches on skin with more pigment

These scaly plaques of skin can appear anywhere on the body. However, they are often on the:

  • scalp
  • knees
  • elbows
  • torso

Read about managing my psoriasis.

What are other causes of skin peeling?

There are many other causes of skin peeling. These include:

When should you contact a doctor for skin peeling?

Some causes of peeling skin, like sunburn, are easily treatable at home. However, a doctor needs to diagnose many of the other causes.

If you experience symptoms of psoriasis, eczema, TSS, and other conditions, contact your doctor. For many conditions that can cause skin peeling, that is only one aspect of it, and your doctor can recommend the most effective treatment.

If you have peeling skin and experience symptoms of infection, contact your doctor right away.

Symptoms of infection

  • rapidly worsening symptoms
  • discharge from your skin
  • increased pain
  • general feeling of being unwell
  • fever
  • chills

How can you treat skin peeling?

Treatment for skin peeling depends on the underlying cause. Speak with your doctor to find the most effective treatment for your circumstances.

Some treatments for peeling skin may include:

  • moisturizing the skin
  • staying hydrated
  • taking antibiotics
  • using antifungal creams
  • avoiding scratching or peeling the skin

Can you prevent skin peeling?

Some causes of skin peeling like eczema, psoriasis, and other conditions are not preventable. However, conditions like sunburn, athlete’s foot, and contact dermatitis are preventable.

To prevent contact dermatitis, try to avoid exposure to the substance that causes your reaction.

To prevent athlete’s foot, try the following:

  • Keep your nails short and clean.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in public showers and locker rooms and sharing towels, shoes, or socks.
  • Wear loose shoes.
  • Clean and dry your feet thoroughly after you shower or bathe.

Summary

There are many possible causes of skin peeling. These range from sunburn to psoriasis. Some causes are preventable, and many are treatable.

Because there are so many causes of peeling skin, contact your doctor if you have new areas of peeling skin that are not due to something like a sunburn.

If you experience symptoms of infection, like fever, discharge from your skin, and increased pain, contact your doctor right away.

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Medical Reviewer: Bukky Aremu, APRN
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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