Peeling skin

Definition

Peeling skin is unintended damage to and loss of the upper layer of your skin (epidermis). Peeling skin may occur because of direct damage to the skin, such as from sunburn or infection. It may also be a sign of an immune system disorder or other disease.

Rash, itching, dryness and other irritating skin problems may accompany peeling skin.

Because a number of conditions — some very severe — can cause peeling skin, it's important to get a prompt diagnosis.

Causes

Your skin is regularly exposed to environmental elements that can irritate and damage it. These include sun, wind, heat, dryness and high humidity. Repeated irritation can lead to skin peeling. In babies born past their due date, it's not unusual for them to experience some painless skin peeling.

Skin peeling can also result from a disease or condition, which may start someplace other than your skin. This type of skin peeling is often accompanied by itching. Conditions that may cause skin peeling include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Infections, including some types of staph and fungal infections
  • Immune system disorders
  • Cancer and cancer treatment
  • Genetic disease, including a rare skin disorder called acral peeling skin syndrome that causes painless peeling of the top layer of skin

Specific diseases and conditions that can cause peeling skin include:

  • Athlete's foot
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Dry skin
  • Jock itch
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Medication side effects
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Pemphigus
  • Psoriasis
  • Ringworm (body)
  • Ringworm (scalp)
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • Sunburn
  • Toxic shock syndrome
    • Athlete's foot
    • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
    • Contact dermatitis
    • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
    • Dry skin
    • Hyperhidrosis
    • Jock itch
    • Kawasaki disease
    • Medication side effects
    • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
    • Pemphigus
    • Psoriasis
    • Ringworm (body)
    • Ringworm (scalp)
    • Scarlet fever
    • Seborrheic dermatitis
    • Staph infections
    • Stevens-Johnson syndrome
    • Sunburn
    • Toxic shock syndrome

    When to see a doctor

    Peeling skin caused by dry skin or mild sunburn is likely to improve with nonprescription lotions and doesn't require medical care. Call your health care provider if you have any doubt about the cause of peeling skin or if the condition is severe.

    Last Updated Jun 21, 2022


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