Skip to Content

Peeling skin

Medically reviewed on Apr 6, 2018

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.

Peeling skin

Peeling skin is the loss of the upper layer of skin, mainly the upper layers of the epidermis. Direct damage to the skin or disorders affecting the body in general can cause peeling skin.

Causes

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:

  • 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
  • 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

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.

© 1998-2018 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use

Hide