10 things to do if your skin is peeling

iStockMoisturizer is necessary but can only go so far.
  • There are many reasons why your skin may be peeling, but the most common cause is dehydrated skin.
  • By making a few changes in your daily routine, you can drastically help your peeling skin.
  • If your peeling skin is caused by something other than lack of moisture, you should consult a board-certified dermatologist.

Dealing with peeling skin? You’re not alone. In fact, Papri Sarkar, a dermatologist in Massachusetts, told INSIDER that it’s a pretty common issue during the winter months. “The decreased humidity, colder temperatures, and frigid breezes can really do a number on your skin,” she said. If your skin is peeling from being too dry, Sarkar noted that it means your skin barrier is damaged or diminished.

But Sarkar added that there are other, less common things that can cause peeling skin. Bacterial or fungal infections (usually on your feet) can cause your skin to peel. Sarkar also pointed out that sunburn can also cause peeling, so it’s important to wear sunscreen when you hit the slopes. Of course, Sarkar adds that there are a lot of other less common causes of peeling skin, like genetic diseases and other rare medical problems. For those, she recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist.

The good news is that there are several different ways to treat peeling skin – especially if it’s because of dry skin. Below Sarkar gives INSIDER 10 tips to deal with it.

Turn the heat down in your shower

Our skin is designed to be a tight fortress against outside onslaughts, Sarkar explained. She compared the upper layer of our skin to a brick wall: The skin cells (keratinocytes) are the bricks, and the mortar (the space between the bricks) is made of oil or lipids. “Hot water wreaks havoc on the lipids in our skin, leaving cracks and openings in our defences against the outer world,” Sarkar said. “In addition, this hardy brick and mortar structure is there to keep the good stuff, like moisture, in. With gaps in our defences we lose precious resources like hydration more quickly.”

Get a humidifier

HumidifierYury Stroykin / ShutterstockA humidifier will give your face much needed moisture.

Since your skin loses water more quickly in the winter months, Sarkar recommended adding moisture back into your environment. How do you do that? With a humidifier.

“Ideally, I recommend at least having one in your bedroom when you’re sleeping,” Sarkar said. If that’s not an option, Sarkar said you can fill a bathtub with water in your living space and let it evaporate into the air. “It’s not as effective, but it’s better than nothing in a pinch,” she said.

Apply a thick moisturizer (right away)

Turns out, moisturizer doesn’t add much moisture to your skin. “Instead, it’s pretty good at keeping the moisture that’s already in your skin there,” Sarkar said. “That’s why it’s imperative that when you go to the trouble of applying a moisturizer, you apply it on damp skin.” Sarkar suggested putting on a thick moisturizer after a shower without toweling dry completely.

If you don’t have time to shower but still want to get the most of your moisturizer, Sarkar recommended using your sink. “Put a thin layer of water on your arm, then moisturizer, and then continue with the rest of your body.”

Skip soap in nonessential places

If you’re dealing with dry, peeling skin, it’s best to skip the suds all over your body, as the soap can dry out your skin even more, Sarkar said. “Unless you’re mud wrestling, you can just soap up your armpits and private area,” she said. “Getting water on the rest of you is key so you can apply thick moisturizer on afterward, but you don’t need to soap your calves every day unless they seem dirty.”

Lower the heat in your home

With the temperatures outside dropping, you may be inclined to crank up the heat in your home. But Sarkar said the hot air can also irritate your peeling skin. “Keeping your heat high will generally dry out the air and cause decreased humidity in your environment, which worsens dry skin.”

Avoid exfoliation

Face scrub woman in showerVolodymyr Nik/ShutterstockToo much exfoliation is never a good idea.

If your skin is peeling, your first instinct may be to exfoliate so you can get smooth skin. But Sarkar said that exfoliating peeling skin might not be the best choice. “If your skin barrier is already beaten up, I don’t recommend exfoliating,” she said. “In fact, over-exfoliating can cause peeling skin as well. It’s unfortunately one of the most common causes of an inflamed and damaged skin barrier that I see in the clinic.”

Lay off the acne treatments

Breaking out? You may want to pile on all of the acne medications, but Sarkar said that will only make your skin peel even more. “Patients with acne think they can nuclear blast the pimples away with strong exfoliators and actives, but it tends to backfire and cause more damage and inflammation in the short term,” she said. “Slow and steady is generally always best with skincare in general.”

Stick to non-irritating makeup

Just because your skin is peeling doesn’t mean you have to avoid makeup, Sarkar said. But she noted that it’s best to avoid makeup that has certain ingredients in it. “I ask patients to stay away from makeup with retinol or salicylic acid or other, irritating, active ingredients,” she said.

If you’re struggling with getting your makeup to go on smoothly while your skin is peeling, Sarkar suggested using a gentle ointment at night to repair your skin barrier overnight. “Alternatively, you can apply a primer, a thin layer or oil or ointment on your face before applying the makeup and keep it in place with a setting powder,” she said.

Put some gloves on

Is the skin on your hands peeling off? Sarkar has a quick fix. “On the hands, peeling skin can be managed by soaking the skin and then applying cream and then putting on gloves,” she said. “If there’s a large degree of inflammation, dermatologists also add a topical anti-inflammatory cream.”

See a dermatologist

Dry skiniStockYour dermatologist might be able to determine why your skin is peeling.

If you’re dealing with peeling skin and it’s not because of dry skin, it’s best to see a board-certified dermatologist. As Sarkar mentioned before things like fungal infections, genetic diseases, or other issues can cause your skin to peel and should be treated by a professional.

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