by Jaclyn LaBadia
When the top layer of your skin flakes or peels off, it’s usually the result of inflammation under your skin or something your skin has come into contact with. Sometimes, you can predict when you’re about to start flaking (like dry skin in winter or after using a new skincare product) but other times, there’s no rhyme or reason behind the peeling. The average person loses over a hundred pounds of skin during their lifetime, and there’s a range of conditions that can cause skin peeling on your face. Managing your facial peeling is just a matter of figuring out which one’s to blame. We’re taking a closer look at some of the most common causes of peeling and flaking skin, from how to identify and treat them.
Common Causes of Facial Peeling
The following are the most common causes of facial peeling and how to treat each.
1. Dry Skin
Some people have naturally dry skin, but dry skin can happen to just about anyone. Regardless of your skin type, things like low-humidity environments, harsh soaps, and scalding-hot showers can strip your skin of its natural moisture, leading to a damaged skin barrier with dry, peeling skin.
How to Treat Dry Skin Peeling
Treat dry skin by using an anti-aging face moisturizer directly after showering or washing your face. The moisturizer will pull in the water left on your skin and rehydrate it. Take lukewarm showers and stick to a gentle cleansing cream to keep dry skin at bay. You can also try running a humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep.
After the initial stages of sunburn, peeling occurs as a result of the skin trying to repair itself. Healthy skin cells are normally “glued” together. As the burnt skin cells die, the “glue” holding them together disintegrates, disrupting the skin barrier. This is what we see as peeling.
How to Treat Sunburn Peeling
For a mild sunburn, cool compresses and soothing skin botanicals like aloe vera can help reduce the discomfort. But if your sunburn is more severe, it’s likely that the deeper levels of your skin are also affected and inflamed. With a severe sunburn, your skin will most likely blister before it peels. A dermatologist can prescribe an anti-inflammatory cream to soothe your skin and ease your pain. Whether your sunburn is moderate or intense, do not pick at your peeling skin, and always, ALWAYS include an anti-aging sunscreen in your morning skincare routine.
3. The Wrong Skincare Products
If you have persistent facial peeling, it might be time for a complete skincare product overhaul. Fragrances and colors added to products, like cleansers and moisturizers, can irritate the skin, causing it to flake and peel.
How to Treat Peeling from the Wrong Skincare Products
Your skincare routine matters. If you’re unusually flaky, using products with lactic acid can decrease inflammation and flaking. Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that acts as a non-friction type exfoliant, breaking down and dissolving the structure of dead skin cells without causing sensitivity. This causes the sloughing off of dull, rough skin and promotes cellular renewal by increasing cellular turnover rates in the upper layers of your skin. Lactic acid increases the ceramides in the skin's protective barrier, increases water retention, works to prevent congestion, and improves pigmentation, making it an all-around superstar skin acid. Try this DIY recipe before you start your new skincare routine-
DIY Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse for Peeling Skin
When it comes to DIY skin peels, apple cider vinegar is a star. ACV is chock full of skin acids like lactic, citric, and malic acids.
- 1 teaspoon organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon organic applesauce
Mix your ingredients.
Remove any make-up and wash your face.
Apply the mask to your face and neck with clean fingers, avoiding the eye area.
Lie down for 10-15 minutes (the mask can be runny).
Remove the mask with a soft cloth and cool water and follow with a skin booster.
4. Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has a negative reaction to something in the environment. It usually occurs in areas of your body that have been directly exposed to the reaction-causing substance.
There are two types of contact dermatitis.
- Allergic contact dermatitis is triggered when you come into contact with something you’re allergic to and your skin breaks out in a rash as an immune response.
- Irritant contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is when something damages your skin’s protective barrier to the point that it causes a rash. Things like rubbing alcohol or drying hand washes can often set off a case of irritant contact dermatitis.
How to Treat Peeling from Contact Dermatitis
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to identify and avoid your specific set of allergens or triggers. This may take some trial and error, with the guidance of a dermatologist. If you’re currently in the middle of a flare-up, your dermatologist can prescribe a topical steroid to help ease the inflammation. Another preventative measure you can take if you have eczema-prone skin is to always keep your skin moisturized with a hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid and use hypoallergenic products as often as possible.
Eczema is a chronic condition where the skin’s barrier doesn’t sufficiently act as the skin’s last line of defense. The skin barrier’s function is to protect against bacteria and irritants. Eczema disrupts this barrier. As a consequence, the body loses water to the environment around it, making it even drier. This causes tightness, itchiness, cracks in the skin, flaking, and the dreaded peeling.
How to Treat Peeling from Eczema
Keeping skin moisturized is a key preventive step when you have eczema. If you’re not already using one, add a hydrating face oil into your daytime and nighttime skincare routines, and be extra sure to keep your skin clean and avoid irritants. Once eczema appears, it’s important to see a dermatologist as soon as possible to prescribe steroid creams or ointments to keep the inflammation under control.
Psoriasis is a condition where the body attacks its own skin cells, and that causes faster shedding of skin cells. Rather than taking a traditional 28 days for the skin cells to shed, psoriasis causes about a four-day turnaround, causing lots of flaking of the skin. The most common form of psoriasis presents as red, dry, itchy patches of thickened skin, called plaques.
How to Treat Peeling from Psoriasis
The right treatment for psoriasis depends on the type and severity of your symptoms. Your dermatologist may recommend using topical medications, light therapy, or a combination. Psoriasis is another condition that can appear as dry skin, but if your skin doesn’t improve with increased skin hydration, that may be a sign that you’re dealing with psoriasis. If your skin isn’t getting better or starting to flake and peel more, it’s time to see a dermatologist.
7. Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis is a scaly, flaky rash that occurs because of an overproduction of oil and yeast. This leads to inflammation that eventually makes the skin’s top layer flake away. It’s most common in areas with a high concentration of oil glands, like the scalp, face, and groin, or in high-friction areas like the armpits or between the fingers. Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include redness, scaliness, oil, and itchiness.
How to Treat Seborrheic Dermatitis Peeling
Sometimes seborrheic dermatitis resolves on its own, but some stubborn cases require repeated treatment and maintenance to prevent yeast and oil from accumulating again. Unlike many of the other causes of peeling skin, seborrheic dermatitis isn’t associated with dry skin. So moisturizing won’t do much to treat it. For this condition, you must address the yeast buildup with an antifungal cream.
8. An Underlying Medical Condition
There are some, albeit rare, situations where peeling skin is a symptom of a much more serious condition that may require immediate medical care. Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a severe allergic reaction to a new medication where the skin breaks out into a painful, red rash before blistering and shedding. Another is toxic shock syndrome, which often comes with peeling skin as well as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, and confusion.
How to Treat Peeling from an Underlying Condition
Again, this is unlikely, but if your skin is peeling off in large sheets, or if the peeling skin is accompanied by extremely tender skin or a fever, see a doctor right away.
If you’ve been shedding more than usual it’s probably the result of inflammation under your skin, dry skin, or something your skin has come into contact with. But managing your facial peeling is only a matter of finding the culprit and identifying the best treatment option. With our breakdown of the eight most common causes of peeling and flaking skin, you’ll be able to identify and treat the cause in no time.