Skin peels and cracks when the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, becomes damaged. Home treatment is typically enough to reduce simple cases of peeling and cracking. But because peeling and cracking may be symptoms of something else, a trip to the doctor might be in order. A diagnosis can determine the appropriate treatment you need.
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Several factors can cause skin to peel and crack. Exposure to sun and dry weather often leads to peeling. Infections such as athlete's foot are another cause of peeling and cracking. Other causes include allergic reactions, immune disorders and certain types of cancer. Those older than 65 are more prone to developing dry skin that can cause peeling and cracking.
Cracking and peeling can be symptoms of an infection or medical disorder. In athlete's foot, a fungal infection, skin can peel or crack between the toes or on the soles of the feet. Someone with psoriasis may have patches of dry and peeling skin on the knees and elbows. Eczema can cause dry red patches of skin anywhere on the body.
Large or persistent areas of peeling and cracked skin can become infected, especially if you scratch or pick at the affected area. Aside from infection, pain and bleeding, other complications can arise from damaged skin. Those with health conditions such as diabetes may be prone to infection from cracked or peeling skin.
To care for cracked and peeling skin, moisturize with commercial creams or lotions containing ingredients such as shea butter or petroleum jelly. Over-the-counter creams containing lactic acid may help ease dry skin that is cracking and peeling. If the condition is caused by bacteria or fungi, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat the underlying infection.
Keeping skin from cracking and peeling involves practicing good hygiene, protecting the skin from harsh environmental conditions or infectious diseases and keeping skin moisturized. If you have regular occurrences of dry skin, avoid spending long periods of time in hot water. Using mild soaps also helps, because harsh soaps can dry the skin.