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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.
Your skin is regularly exposed to environmental elements that can irritate and damage it. These include sun, wind, heat, dryness and excessive 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:
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:
Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
Medication side effects
Toxic shock syndrome
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor
Peeling skin caused by dry skin or mild sunburn is likely to improve with over-the-counter lotions and usually doesn't require medical care. If you have any doubt about the cause of peeling skin or if the condition is severe, call your doctor before trying over-the-counter lotions or home remedies.