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Skin on the face may peel for a number of reasons. Depending on the cause, there may be a range of effective treatments and methods of prevention.
Dry skin, reactions to skin care products, and skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, are just some issues that can cause peeling facial skin.
Here, we explore 11 ways to heal peeling skin on the face and prevent any associated itching or discomfort. We then look into the causes of skin peeling, as addressing the underlying issue can be key.
Using a moisturizer right after washing and drying the face can help lock in moisture. Doing so can treat peeling skin that results from dryness. It is best to use a moisturizer that is fragrance free.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, moisturizers that contain one or more of the following ingredients may help soothe dry skin:
- shea butter
- lactic acid
- hyaluronic acid
- mineral oil
If a person has a sunburn, they should avoid using moisturizers and other products that contain oil or petroleum. These can trap heat within the skin.
Skin care products that contain oil can also contribute to acne formation. Use facial products that are noncomedogenic and oil free.
Switching to a soap free, mild cleanser can help heal peeling skin on the face.
Avoid using antibacterial or fragranced cleansers, as these can increase skin dryness.
When skin on the face is peeling, take care to use products that do not strip the skin of oil. Avoid using astringents, or products that contain:
- alpha hydroxyl acids
- benzoyl peroxide
Topical retinoids can also contribute to dryness. Retinoids are synthetic versions of vitamin A, and they frequently appear in skin care products.
Switching to a product with a less potent retinoid or using retinoids less frequently can prevent them from drying out the skin.
After washing, pat — do not rub — the face dry with a soft towel. This gentler approach can help prevent further peeling or soreness.
Limiting showers or baths to 5–10 minutes can help prevent the skin from drying out further.
Also, try using warm or lukewarm water instead of hot water, which can quickly strip oil from the skin. Cooler showers can also help cool the skin and relieve pain from sunburn.
Aloe vera gel acts as an anti-inflammatory treatment for sunburn.
Anyone with a sunburn should avoid further sun exposure while their skin is healing. Stay indoors as much as possible, and wear protective clothing outside.
Doctors also recommend using sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 30–45 or higher. One article suggests applying aloe vera gel on any sunburned area of skin first, then using sunscreen with SPF 45 or higher.
Drinking enough water every day can help keep the skin hydrated and prevent peeling.
Drinking lots of water is especially important to prevent dehydration in people with sunburn, which pulls fluid from the rest of the body.
A humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can help prevent the skin from drying out.
Also, avoid sitting directly in front of a heat source, such as an open fire, as this can further dry peeling skin.
Depending on the cause of skin peeling, an over-the-counter cortisone cream, such as hydrocortisone, may help reduce inflammation and heal the skin. This is most useful when a condition such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis is causing the peeling.
However, before trying any new treatment, it is best to check with a dermatologist. Anyone who is debating whether to use a product on their face should consult a pharmacist or doctor.
Using sunscreen every day can help prevent damage and further peeling. It can also combat symptoms of conditions such as rosacea.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommend wearing a water resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
Various health conditions can cause peeling skin on the face, and each has specific symptoms and treatments.
If a fungal infection is causing the peeling, for example, antifungal medications can help. These are typically topical ointments, but some are available as pills.
If hypothyroidism is causing excessive skin dryness and peeling, it may help to adjust the dosage of thyroid hormones.
The following sections look at possible causes of peeling skin on the face.
Dry skin, or xerosis, can flake and peel off. It results from a lack of water and oil.
People with dry skin may also experience:
- roughness or cracks in the area
- chapped lips
- itchiness in the area
- a gray coloring, in people with darker skin
Dry skin on the face can result from various issues, including:
- a dry climate
- cold weather
- chlorine in swimming pools
- adverse effects of medications
- skin products that dry or irritate the skin
- medical conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis
Sunburned skin peels because the body is getting rid of damaged skin cells.
Both first- and second-degree sunburns can cause skin to peel. More severe burns cause swelling and blisters, as well as redness.
Certain acne medications and similar products can cause peeling or dryness of the skin. Among them are topical treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids.
Various skin conditions can cause peeling and dry skin on the face and the rest of the body, including:
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis): This inflammatory condition tends to cause red, peeling, and itchy skin. The skin may be scaly and crack or develop crusty sores that may weep fluid.
- Facial psoriasis: Another inflammatory condition, this can cause red, dry, scaly patches of skin that may feel itchy and sensitive.
- Rosacea: This causes redness and pus-filled, red bumps on the face. Affected skin may also be dry, peeling, or both. A person with rosacea may flush easily and feel sensitivity or a burning or stinging sensation in the affected area.
- Allergic contact dermatitis: This is an allergic reaction to a substance, such as a chemical in a skin care product. It can cause a red, itchy, scaly rash.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: This develops in areas of the body that produce the most oil, such as the scalp, face, chest, or back. It can cause greasy skin and white or yellow crusty flakes. When it occurs on the scalp, it is called dandruff.
Hypothyroidism can cause dryness that leads to flaking or peeling skin. Other symptoms include:
- brittle nails
- thin, coarse hair
- intolerance to cold
- a loss of appetite
- weight gain
- high blood pressure
Fungal infections most commonly start on the skin. In this case, they can cause the skin to become dry and to peel and flake. An infection can also cause redness and swelling.
Peeling skin syndrome
Peeling skin syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that causes skin to continuously peel. It usually appears in newborns or infants, but it can develop later in life. The affected skin may also be itchy and red.
Peeling skin sometimes results from dry air or sunburn. Moisturizing and gentle skin care can often help restore the health of the skin.
In some cases, peeling skin is a symptom of a skin condition or another health issue and may require treatment.
See a doctor if peeling skin is not responding to home remedies or is causing significant discomfort.
Also, seek medical attention if the peeling occurs with:
- sunburn that covers a large area of skin or causes severe blistering
- nausea or vomiting
- a fever
- feeling dizzy or confused
People can find many of the remedies from this article in drugstores or supermarkets. Or, people can choose from a range of brands online: