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What Does It Mean When Your Skin Starts to Peel?

by
author image Jonathan Croswell
Jonathan Croswell has spent more than five years writing and editing for a number of newspapers and online publications, including the "Omaha World-Herald" and "New York Newsday." Croswell received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is currently pursuing a Master's of Health and Exercise Science at Portland State University.
What Does It Mean When Your Skin Starts to Peel?
Peeling skin can have many different causes. Photo Credit Paul Burns/Lifesize/Getty Images

Peeling skin usually doesn't hurt, but it can be very noticeable. Seeing your skin peel in large sheets, as it sometimes does, may alarm you, particularly if you don't know what is causing it. Peeling is the natural maintenance mechanism that the skin uses to get rid of dead skin cells. With healthy skin, this process happens gradually so that the shedding of skin cells is not easily seen. If skin is damaged, however, peeling may be more widespread and readily apparent.

Significance

When the skin peels excessively, it can sometimes expose new layers of skin prematurely. This can lead to new skin being reddish in color or sensitive, particularly to the sun's rays. In many cases, peeling skin also helps signal skin damage, which can require treatment or better care to prevent chronic damage from occurring.

Causes

A number of conditions may result in skin peeling, with some being minor and others potentially serious. Damage from a sunburn is a common cause, as is dry skin that can develop either from dry heat, sun exposure or as a side effect of certain topical skin treatments. Allergies and infections are more serious circumstances, and peeling skin may also indicate an immune system disorder or cancer.

Treatment

Moisturizing the skin can help protect the skin from drying out, and if you are exposed to the sun for extended periods of time, you should apply sunscreen before going outside. If you develop dry skin in your home because of low humidity, a humidifier can add water to the atmosphere and ease the stress on your skin.

Prevention

Protect your skin from the sun's rays by applying sunscreen and wearing adequate clothing. Avoid taking medications and supplements that cause drying of the skin, or apply moisturizer onto the skin after using these medications to reduce the risk of peeling. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help keep your skin hydrated. You can also exfoliate your skin periodically to prevent dead skin cells from accumulating on the skin and later coming off in large swaths.

Expert Insight

In most cases, peeling skin does not require medical attention. But when combined with other symptoms, it may indicate a medical condition that needs immediate attention from a doctor. According to MayoClinic.com, you should consult a health care professional if you develop a fever, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, pain in your joints or muscles, generally declining health or other symptoms that seem to be alarming.

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