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Your skin comprises three layers, namely, the hypodermis, dermis, and epidermis, from the innermost to the outermost.
New living skin cells are produced in the hypodermis, after which they move to the surface. During this upward migration, the cells get laden with a protein called keratin, which eventually penetrates their nucleus to make them hard and dead.
These dead cells form an impervious barrier over the skin but are gradually replaced by new cells that rise to the surface. Healthy skin naturally sheds these cells into the environment daily, but this process is hardly noticeable.
In fact, the dust in your surrounding is largely composed of these dead epithelial cells that are sloughed off as part of skin regeneration. Certain factors can accelerate this shedding process such that your skin starts to peel. Peeling skin can be quite discomforting and unappealing. Fortunately, peeling skin can usually be managed through simple remedies, lifestyle changes, healthy eating, and proper skin care.
However, if the condition stems from a skin disorder such as dermatitis or psoriasis, it tends to be more persistent and severe. In such cases, an early diagnosis followed by prompt treatment is the best way to heal the skin and prevent other complications such as secondary infections.
Home Remedies for Peeling Skin
The following are some home remedies to treat and heal your dry and peeling skin that is caused by simple reasons such as weather conditions, excessive exposure to the sun, and poor skin care.
Caution: Always conduct a patch test before trying any new topical remedy to make sure that you are not allergic to any of its ingredients.
1. Plant oils and fats
Topical use of plant oils and fats is known to provide long-lasting hydration by binding moisture to the skin. These plant oils and fats not only moisturize but also repair the outermost layer of the skin to strengthen its barrier function. This helps prevent transepidermal water loss.
These nourishing oils also contain several phenolic compounds that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help curb the swelling, pain, redness, and itching associated with peeling skin. (1)
Some commonly used oils and fats include coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, rosehip oil, evening primrose oil, argan oil, castor oil, and other oils containing vitamin E, shea butter, (2) mango butter, cocoa butter, (3) and avocado butter.
How to use:
- Wash the affected skin with lukewarm water and pat it dry.
- Take a little bit of your preferred plant oil in your hands and gently rub it all over the dry skin until it gets sufficiently absorbed.
- Reapply every time you wash your skin or sweat profusely or if you feel its moisturizing effect is wearing off.
2. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel is one of the most sought-after remedies for a variety of skin problems, including peeling skin. This gooey gel is full of mucopolysaccharides that impart moisture to the skin and seal it in for prolonged hydration.
How to use:
- Take a freshly cut aloe vera leaf, slice it from the side, and scoop out its gel. You can also cool the cut leaf in the refrigerator for a while before extracting the gel.
- Wash the peeling skin and gently pat it dry.
- Apply the aloe vera gel all over the affected skin.
Alternatively, you can buy packaged aloe vera gel or aloe-based skin lotions or creams.
Colloidal oatmeal, a variant of ground oats, is renowned for its skin-healing properties. It helps moisturize, soothe, gently exfoliate, and repair the skin when used topically. No wonder it is found in a wide range of skin creams and lotions.
Colloidal oatmeal is also full of antioxidants that help minimize skin damage induced by free radicals.
How to use:
- Fill your bathtub with comfortably warm water and mix 1 cup of oatmeal in it.
- Soak in this soothing bathwater for 30 minutes.
- Wash your body with clean water, and pat it dry with a soft towel.
- Apply a gentle moisturizer to your body while your skin is still moist.
Honey is credited with several dermatological benefits that can be traced back to its bioactive compounds. It is enriched with sugars, namely, sucrose and fructose, as well skin-healing polyphenols and vitamins.
Honey is a natural humectant that lubricates the skin and locks in the moisture. It also works as an antioxidant to curb free-radical damage and an anti-inflammatory to curb swelling, itching, and redness.
Plus, honey is an excellent antiseptic agent that can help fight or prevent skin infections, a common threat in the case of peeling skin. Thus, honey not only heals but also protects your sensitive peeling skin, whose barrier function has become compromised. (7)
Locally produced, raw, organic honey is the top choice for addressing skin problems, but you can use medical-grade honey as well.
How to use:
- Directly apply the honey to your peeling skin.
- Let it sit for about 15 minutes.
- Rinse your skin and apply a moisturizer.
Caution: Discontinue this remedy if you notice persistent or acute stinging after using it.
5. Alpha hydroxy acids
Skin peeling is characterized by a lot of flakiness, which needs to be gently exfoliated, but it also tends to be extra sensitive. Alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid, glycolic acid, and malic acid are mild exfoliating agents that can remove the flakiness associated with peeling skin without irritating it further.
In fact, chemical peeling with glycolic acid is an oft-recommended medical treatment for skin peeling caused by sunburns. Of these alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid is found in a number of dairy products, including yogurt, milk, and milk cream, making it a safe and suitable choice for homemade scrubs. (8)
- Prepare your own exfoliating mask by mixing yogurt, milk, or milk cream with honey in equal proportions to make a paste.
- You can add 1 tablespoon of oatmeal, salt, or sugar to your mask for a better scrubbing effect, but this is completely optional.
- Wash the flaky skin with plain water and pat it dry.
- Apply the paste to the skin while it’s still moist, and gently rub it in circular motions to exfoliate for a few minutes.
- Rinse your skin, pat it dry, and cover it with a moisturizer.
- Do this once a week.
6. Over-the-counter products
Skin peeling triggered by inflammatory conditions can be managed with certain medicated creams and ointments that are available without a prescription.
For instance, doctors usually recommend using OTC topical steroids such as 1% hydrocortisone ointments to soothe any eczematous patches for a period of 5–10 days. These cortisone products help reduce swelling, redness, and itchiness by bringing down the inflammation.
However, excessive or prolonged use of steroids can cause skin thinning and other deleterious side effects. Therefore, it’s best to stick to the dosage and directions of use that comes with the product. You can consult your doctor in case of any confusion rather than self-medicating.
Topical steroids are often used along with a moisturizer, in which case you must always apply the cortisone before the moisturizer. Other active ingredients to look for in your ointments and emollients are dimethicone, jojoba oil, niacinamide, glycerin, petrolatum jelly, beeswax, (9) ceramide, and eucalyptus extracts. (10)
Here are some dos and don’ts to manage skin peeling without medication:
- Peeling skin is usually itchy, but resist the urge to scratch as it will only make matters worse. The friction can deepen the cracks in the skin to break its barrier, thus granting entry to microbes. Also, your nails carry a lot of dirt and germs that can get transferred onto the open skin. All these can lead to some very serious secondary skin infections such as cellulitis.
- Supplements such as evening primrose oil and vitamin E oil can help soothe and heal peeling skin by improving its elasticity and hydration. You can get them in the form of tablets, capsules, soft gels, and liquids, but it is important to consult your doctor before starting.
- You can apply a cool compress or cold cucumber slices to the irritated areas for temporary relief from the itching and redness.
- If your skin is peeling due to a sunburn, taking cold showers or immersing your body in a cool bath can help reduce the discomfort to some degree.
- Take OTC analgesics such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to manage the pain associated with skin peeling, but only in recommended amounts. If the pain persists, consult your doctor.
- Keep yourself well hydrated.
How to Prevent Skin from Peeling
Here are some simple tips to avoid skin peeling or keep it from getting worse:
1. Eat healthy
Poor eating habits can induce and aggravate skin peeling, which is why it is very important to consume a well-balanced, diversified diet to meet all your nutritional needs.
Incorporate nuts, freshwater fishes, flaxseeds, chia seeds, soybean oil, and canola oil in your meals, all of which are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that help maintain and strengthen your skin barrier. (11)
Vitamin D deficiency is often linked with excessively dry and flaky skin. (12) Sunlight exposure is the major trigger of the production of this vital nutrient, but you can also get it through dietary sources such as milk and eggs. Also, eat more of pigmented vegetables such as bell peppers, citrus fruits, and berries to get a good dose of antioxidants, which help fight free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body.
2. Protect your skin from the sun
Sunlight contains UV rays that cause a great deal of skin damage and are major contributors to skin peeling.
Make it a rule to always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF during the day, especially when going outdoors. Apply it all over the exposed areas of the skin, and reapply when you feel its effects wearing off.
Sunscreen is available in the form of lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks, and sprays, and you can choose whichever suits you best. According to the FDA, a good-quality sunscreen should contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which help block out the UVB rays and most of the UVA rays.
You should also try to wear full-sleeved tops, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and other protective clothing to keep your skin covered in the sun.
3. Minimize sun exposure
Avoid going out when the sun is at its peak, between 11 am and 3 pm. If you must, always wear proper sun protection and try to stay in the shade as much as possible
4. Drink plenty of fluids
Keep your skin hydrated from within by drinking at least 8 glasses of water every day. Distribute your fluid intake throughout the day rather than drinking large amounts at once.
5. Fix your bathing habits
Hot water can strip the natural oils from your skin and render it drier than before. Also, the longer you expose your skin to water, the drier it will become. So, you should only bathe once a day with tepid or lukewarm water and not for more than 10–15 minutes.
Also, make sure that your tap water is not high in mineral ions such as fluorides and chlorides that can dehydrate your skin. Instead of wiping or rubbing your wet skin with a towel, let it air dry. Another option is to gently dab the towel on your skin to soak in the excess moisture.
6. Religiously moisturize your skin
The best time to moisturize your skin is immediately after bathing when your pores are still open to allow better product absorption. Moreover, applying the product to damp skin will help seal in the moisture for long-lasting hydration. (13)
Reapply the moisturizer at least two to three times a day or whenever you feel its lubricating effect wearing off. Moisturizers come in the form of ointments, creams, or lotions; choose whichever suits your skin the most. You can even ask your skin specialist to recommend you the best option.
Generally, ointments and creams have a thicker consistency and provide more intensive hydration, thus making them ideal for extremely dry skin. Moisturizers that contain ceramides, corn husk, jojoba oil, hyaluronic acid, and salicylic acid should be the ones you are looking for.
7. Cleanse your skin with the right products
Regular soaps, cleansers, and hand washes generally contain chemicals and added fragrances that strip the moisture from your skin. Look for unscented products that are devoid of parabens, sulfates, alcohols, and other such harsh ingredients but contain added moisturizers instead.
People mistakenly believe that the more soap they use, the cleaner their skin will be. But this will only dry out the skin. So, apply just enough soap to remove the dirt and oil, rather than using copious amounts to produce a thick lather.
8. Give up wrong habits
Sucking or licking your fingers or lips can dry them out and induce peeling, so try to overcome such habits.
9. Wear a hydrating lip balm
The skin covering your lips is extremely thin and prone to peeling, especially during winters or if you have a habit of licking them. Also, wearing lipsticks can dry out your lips. So, care for your lips as much as the rest of your facial skin.
Apply a good-quality lip balm that deeply moisturizes your lips without feeling heavy or greasy. Make sure it’s devoid of any chemicals that can further irritate your sensitive skin. If it makes your chapped lips sting or tingle, switch to another product.
10. Choose your cosmetics and skin products wisely
When buying makeup or skin care essentials, choose the ones labeled hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic. This means that the product is free of any chemical irritants and will not clog your pores, both of which are important considerations for ultrasensitive peeling skin.
Some common ingredients to avoid are formaldehydes, lauryl sulfates, isopropyl alcohol, propanol and propyl alcohol, and scenting agents called parabens. These are harsh chemicals that can induce dermatitis and skin peeling with repeated use by removing the natural lipids from your skin. (14)
Consider this point when buying other products that come in regular contact with your skin as well, such as detergents, hair dyes, and bleach.
11. Take care of your hands
The hands are the most exposed, overused, and overwashed parts of the body. This makes them vulnerable to a great deal of skin damage in the form of dryness, flakiness, and even peeling.
The irritated skin can sting when it comes in contact with detergents or the frigid winter winds. So, always wear gloves when doing your laundry, washing your dishes, cleaning your house, or simply going out in the cold. Also, avoid the frequent use of alcohol-containing hand sanitizers that can further dry out your skin.
12. Use a humidifier
Fix the moisture in your home environment by installing a humidifier, especially during winters or if you live in an arid region. Make sure to clean the humidifier now and again to prevent the growth of mold in the equipment. (15)
13. Avoid the use of indoor heating
Indoor heating can suck the moisture from your home environment. Dry air leads to dry skin, which is why people with peeling skin should try to minimize or discontinue the use of indoor heaters.
14. Dress appropriately
Wear soft, comfortable fabrics that don’t stick to your skin and allow it to breathe. Avoid rough fabrics such as wool or jute that can rub against your peeling skin and irritate it even more.
Most-Asked Questions About Skin Peeling
Can baking soda treat peeling skin caused by sunburn?
Baking soda is credited with anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve the itching associated with a sunburn but not the skin peeling. However, there’s no scientific proof to confirm this claim. This remedy is purely anecdotal, with some people reporting positive results.
It is important to note that due to its highly alkaline nature, baking soda can disrupt the pH balance of your already sensitive skin and can further irritate it.
Can the topical application of apple cider vinegar treat peeling skin caused by sunburn?
The use of vinegar for treating sunburn symptoms is only supported by anecdotal evidence. It has been reported to reduce itching and flaking of the skin by some users, but there is no research to prove it. Chances are it can worsen skin irritation. (16)
Peeling skin is often the result of arid weather, poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, or negligent skin care. Such a skin condition can easily be managed by avoiding irritants, adopting proper self-care, and following home remedies.
But if the condition does not improve or worsens despite the initial treatment, you may want to see a skin specialist to diagnose the root cause of the skin peeling. The peeling may be symptomatic of an underlying medical condition that requires proper treatment. The earlier you catch the illness, the easier it will be to manage and treat.