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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Looking in the mirror and seeing your skin peeling can be pretty troubling, but it can also tell you some important things. For example, peeling after a day out in the sun is a sure sign you overdid the sun exposure and should have used more sunscreen. But without a clear cause like that, how worried should you be about skin peeling on your face?
Let’s settle any anxiety you have right out of the gate: While peeling skin can be a sign of some specific skin conditions, it’s not necessarily something to stress out about. But whether you’re dealing with a reaction to a skincare product (like skin purging) or just a regular case of dry skin, here’s what you should know about how to soothe your skin.
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Causes of peeling skin
Your skin may be peeling for any number of reasons, ranging from simple dry skin to medical conditions like eczema.
You may have dry skin
Just because you have dry skin, that does not necessarily mean you have a serious skin condition. Environmental factors, such as weather or a drop in humidity can be harsh on the skin. Many people find that their peeling skin is seasonal (Proksch, 2020).
Your skin produces its own oil or moisturizer known as sebum. Any imbalance in this production, whether hormonal, environmental, or due to the use of certain skincare products, may lead to dryness, peeling, and flaking. Alternatively, these factors can also cause reactive overproduction of sebum and even acne (Prakash, 2017).
Taking long hot showers or baths, as well as sunburns, can also cause dry skin and peeling that usually doesn’t require medical attention.
You may be reacting to a skincare product
There are two possible things going on here: contact dermatitis or normal reactions.
Certain ingredients in skincare products cause skin irritation and may lead to redness and dry patches. For many people, this is a normal side effect of transitioning to these products, and the breakouts resolve themselves quickly, revealing clearer, better-looking skin.
Retinoids, such as tretinoin (see Important Safety Information), and hydroxy acid exfoliators, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are known to cause these reactions and the irritation starts to resolve around 2–4 weeks. Check your skincare routine for products with common irritants, such as retinol (Leyden, 2017).
It is also possible that you have a condition known as contact dermatitis. Allergic reactions to certain substances (allergens) may include immediate redness, burning, itching or rash after application—this often means that this is the wrong product for your skin. A red, itchy rash is likely contact dermatitis (Litchman, 2021).
If you’ve added a new product to your skincare routine recently, it may be helpful to discontinue use and talk to your dermatologist about the reaction you’re having.
You may have an underlying skin condition
7 Eczema triggers to know and how to avoid them
Although less common, scaly skin on the face can also be caused by seborrheic dermatitis, a scaly, itchy rash that generally appears on the scalp but may also affect oily areas of the body, including the face and chest (Tucker, 2021).
When to see a dermatologist
So how do you know when it’s serious enough to talk to a dermatologist? Serious signs you should watch for include (Kolb, 2021):
- Deep cracks in the skin
- Excessive redness
- Severe itching
- Skin oozing (pus)
Treatments for skin peeling on the face
If your face is peeling due to a simple case of dry skin, some skincare routine tweaks should correct the issue and prevent future problems, such as:
- Apply moisturizing lotions regularly, multiple times a day if need be.
- Take showers or baths with warm water, rather than hot.
- Use a gentle skin cleanser instead of harsh soaps that can cause more irritation.
- Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF when going outside.
If a medical condition such as eczema or psoriasis is the underlying cause of your peeling skin, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider, who can guide you towards the best treatment option. If you suspect that your face products are irritating your skin, stop using them and talk to a healthcare professional.
- Kolb, L. & Ferrer-Bruker, S. J. (2021). Atopic dermatitis. [Updated Aug 13, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sept. 30, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448071/
- Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why topical retinoids are mainstay of therapy for acne. Dermatology and Therapy, 7(3), 293–304. doi: 10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28585191/
- Litchman, G., Nair, P. A., Atwater, A. R., et al. (2021). Contact dermatitis. [Updated Aug 7, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sept. 30, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459230/
- Prakash, C., Bhargava, P., Tiwari, S., Majumdar, B., & Bhargava, R. (2017). Skin surface pH in acne vulgaris: insights from an observational study and review of the literature. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 10(7), 33–39.Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605222/
- Proksch, E., Berardesca, E., Misery, L., Engblom, J., & Bouwstra, J. (2020). Dry skin management: practical approach in light of latest research on skin structure and function. The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 31(7), 716–722. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2019.1607024. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30998081/
- Tucker, D. & Masood, S. (2021). Seborrheic dermatitis. [Updated Aug 3, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sept. 30, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551707/v
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.