The shedding of dead skin is a normal part of the skin growth cycle, but most often, this loss is barely noticeable. So it can be concerning to have larger pieces of skin peeling off your hands or fingers. This peeling is a reflection of skin that is damaged or otherwise affected by a skin condition or underlying disease. Peeling from damaged skin typically resolves after the cause is removed or treated. If your skin is peeling and you are unsure of the cause, see your doctor or dermatologist.
Hallmarks of Peeling Skin
If the skin on your hands and fingers begins to peel, the area underneath may become red, irritated or itchy. Depending on the cause and extent of skin loss, you may also experience swelling or pain. The cracks or openings in your skin also make the underlying tissue more susceptible to infection. So if the cause isn't clear or easily treatable at home, it's important to have your doctor assess what's wrong, and outline a management plan to prevent ongoing skin loss and related infections.
When skin is damaged, the injured skin dies and noticeably peels off as new skin cells grow underneath. Peeling is commonly related to sunburn, which is not a surprise to most people affected, as they have red skin and discomfort in the days before this peeling occurs. Hand or finger peeling may also be a sign of contact dermatitis, often called eczema, which can occur from irritants or allergens. For example, contact dermatitis can affect hands that are frequently submerged in water or repeatedly exposed to sweat that is trapped under gloves, and may also be related to irritation or allergy from soaps, detergents, cleaning products, lotions or even latex gloves. Occupational exposure to cement, solvents or other harsh chemicals can also cause dermatitis in the hands or other exposed areas.
A variety of medical conditions can cause the skin on your hands and fingers to peel. Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder which causes a rapid buildup of skin cells, can lead to flaky, dry, itchy skin. Exfoliative keratolysis, which causes air-filled blisters and skin peeling on the hands, fingers and feet, is commonly mistaken for eczema or psoriasis but is a different condition that is more common in hot weather or with excessive sweating or friction. Certain infections, most notably fungal or staphylococcus infections, can occur on the hands and cause peeling. Also, peeling skin from damage or accelerated skin growth can be a consequence of numerous other conditions or medication side effects, however this skin peeling is not typically limited to the fingers and hands.
When to Consult Your Doctor
If you have peeling skin without a clear cause, it's important to see your doctor or a dermatologist, as there are many serious disorders that can cause the skin to peel, including a group of rare conditions known as Peeling Skin Syndrome. If you have mild peeling that does not resolve with home treatments, or if you have a worsening of symptoms or any signs of infection, such as pus, oozing fluids or crusting, see your doctor for an evaluation and for treatment recommendations.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- Merck Manuals: Hand and Foot Dermatitis
- American Academy of Dermatology: Dry, Scaly and Painful Hands Could Be Hand Eczema
- National Institutes of Health: Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center: Acral Peeling Skin Syndrome
- Dermatology Advisor: Peeling Skin Syndrome
- Merck Manual: Psoriasis
- Merck Manual: Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN)