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Peeling skin can affect different parts of the body and can be a symptom of various medical conditions. A proper diagnosis of the condition that caused peeling skin is established by taking into consideration all kinds of factors, such as

peeling intensity, localization, other skin changes, the presence of the pain or itching, age, duration, exposition to damaging external factors, etc.

Skin Peeling Physiology

Peeling of the skin - desquamation is a natural process which represents the final phase of skin cell life cycle. Normally, the lifespan of skin cells is about two weeks, and after that, they fall off individually during the desquamation process and are replaced by the new cells, so the whole process is unnoticeable. In case of pathological skin conditions, the desquamation is over-expressed and imbalanced, so the skin cells fall off in large clusters leaving white structures called squama.

The Causes of Peeling Skin

When determining the cause of the peeling, it is important to determine whether the process is generalized or localized to specific areas of the body. Some of the most common causes of generalized desquamation are:

  • Atopic Dermatitis. This disorder starts in early childhood and disappears by adolescence in 75% of patients. It manifests as a very itchy rash accompanied by skin peeling, and affects multiple parts of the body, especially hands, feet, face, and chest.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Lupus is a very complex autoimmune disorder affecting various organs, one of which is skin. Although some body regions are most commonly affected, it can cause rash and desquamation anywhere on the body surface.
  • Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a condition of uncertain etiology which is manifested in the form of rashes spread across different areas of the skin accompanied by intensive skin peeling. The skin changes are rarely itchy.
  • Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder based on decreased function of thyroid gland. Besides other symptoms, the effects on the skin include dry skin, fragile hair and nails, and accelerated desquamation.

On the other hand, the causes of localized desquamation are completely different and they include:

  • Contact Dermatitis. This is a very common condition caused by reaction of the skin to the contact with some substances, which can have irritation or allergenic effect. The symptoms include rash, desquamation, and the feeling of irritation. Skin changes are expressed only in those parts of the skin that were in direct contact with the irritating substance or allergen. The most common irritating substances include: alcohol, latex, ethylene oxide, and acetone, while the most often accused allergens are nickel, gold, and chromium.
  • Keratosis Pilaris. Keratosis pilaris is a hereditary disorder currently affecting about 40 % of people in the US. Itchiness and rash are especially pronounced during the winter when the temperatures and the air humidity are low.

Treatment Options

Depending on the cause, recommended treatment options for peeling skin are different. In order to determine the exact diagnosis, do not hesitate to visit your dermatologist. Hydrating creams are almost always recommended. They are very helpful and they do alleviate the symptoms caused by dry and fragile peeling skin. Corticosteroid creams have anti-inflammatory effect and are used in most of the above stated conditions, but they should strictly be prescribed by a dermatologist, bearing in mind that most of their side effects are the result of inadequate use.

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