Peeling skin can be an uncomfortable and even embarrassing symptom. If this affects one or both of your child's hands, it's usually the result of sun damage, or related to an infection or other irritant. However, sometimes the peeling signals a more serious medical condition. In the case of a mild sunburn or severely dry skin, this peeling can be easily managed at home. But when the cause is unknown or the symptoms are severe or ongoing, see your child's pediatrician.
When skin is peeling, the nearby skin may also show signs of dryness, redness, itching or rash. In some cases, the affected area may be painful or swell. Depending on the cause, other symptoms -- such as blisters or scales -- may be present. Any cracks or openings in the skin can risk infection, so it's important to coach your child to not pick or pull at the peeling skin, and visit his pediatrician right away if the skin is red, warm and if pus is present.
In children, peeling skin on the hands could be related to a sunburn, severely dry weather, or thumb or finger sucking -- or this symptom can signal dermatitis from irritation or allergy. Fungal or bacterial infections can also cause skin damage and subsequent peeling. Skin conditions such as psoriasis, an inflammatory condition that leads to raised, red patches can also cause skin to peel. Infrequently, more serious disorders or medication side effects can lead to skin peeling. For example, peeling of the hands and feet can occur after the initial phase of Kawasaki disease, a severe viral infection that typically impacts children under 5. Kawasaki disease typically presents with high fever, rash, swollen glands, swollen hands and feet, and red eyes, lips, and tongue.
Since skin peeling is a symptom of an underlying condition or a consequence of skin damage, treatment is directed at the cause. If your child is sensitive or allergic to a skin care product, soap or other irritant, the damage -- and the peeling -- will stop when the substance is no longer in contact with his skin. The effects of dry, peeling skin can be countered by using hypoallergenic moisturizing lotions. For skin conditions, your child's pediatrician may recommend baths, cool compresses, topical steroid creams or antibiotics. Also, to reduce the risk of infection, keep your child's skin clean and protected.
Although dry skin or mild flaking is typically not a cause for alarm, seek medical attention for your child if the cause is not known, or if his peeling skin worsens or does not improve with home treatment. Also have your child see his pediatrician right away if he has a high temperature or other signs of infections, such as redness, warmth or pus oozing from the skin.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD