Everyone suffers from dry skin every now and then. Sometimes, however, dead skin peels off in such large quantities that it's impossible not to worry that something is terribly wrong. This article deals with the possible causes of dry peeling skin, its treatments, and whether or not it necessitates a visit to the doctor's office.
For the most part, peeling dry skin does not constitute a medical emergency. The skin is made of three parts: the top layer (epidermis), a middle layer (dermis), and an inner layer (hypodermis). Every 28 days, the epidermis completely replaces its skin cells. This may result in some peeling, more evident in some people than in others.
Dry peeling skin has many other possible causes. The more common ones include dry skin, sunburn, Vitamin A overdose, and chemical irritation due to exposure to household cleaners and solvents. In the winter, falling temperatures and humidity dehydrates the skin and may cause some peeling. Excessive sun exposure causes the top layer of the skin, the epidermis, to peel naturally. The overdose of Vitamin A (usually in the form of acne-treating gels like Retin-A) can cause the skin to thin and peel. The harsh ingredients in many household cleaners can harm the skin on your hands if you don't use rubber gloves.
Some of the more serious causes include eczema, psoriasis, or toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). Eczema is an inflammation of the epidermis and is marked by red, dry skin that may flake, blister, or bleed. Psoriasis is a possibly-genetic medical condition that is characterized by rapidly-growing skin that peel off in scales. TEN, also called toxic skin death, is caused by an unusual allergic reaction to common drugs, such as sulfa drugs, gout medications or penicillin. People afflicted with TEN must be hospitalized.
Another hereditary cause of dry peeling skin is the Peeling Skin Syndrome, a skin condition marked by dry skin that continuously peels off. Redness and itchiness may also accompany the dry peeling skin. Medical consultation is often needed to treat this skin condition.
Most of the common skin-care treatments work well in treating dry peeling skin. For starters, make sure to drink enough fluids daily (a half-gallon is average) to avoid the tendency of getting dry skin in the first place. Dry skin is usually a sign of dehydration.
Resist the temptation to pick or scratch the dry peeling skin: doing so can open breaks in the skin and invite infection. This is particularly dangerous for people with eczema or psoriasis, as the infection can seep into the tissue and worsen the skin condition. To cut a piece of peeling skin, use a pair of fine scissors to snip at the larger flakes. Pulling or tearing at the flakes can cause you to accidentally tear healthy skin with it.
Sticking to a diet rich in protein, iron, and the Vitamins A, B and C can show an improvement in your skin in as little as a month. Protein-rich foods include meat (not fried!), fish, nuts, and dairy products. You can get your iron from beans, peas, and cereals. Lots of citrus fruit and vegetables will help you get your daily intake of Vitamins A, B, and C--and it wouldn't hurt to throw in a few dietary supplements in for good measure!
Many doctors also suggest a cool shower or Aveeno bath to ease the discomfort of dry peeling skin, especially if the condition affects most parts of the body. Also, make the switch to a milder soap; switching to a cleanser is an even better idea. Two cups of Aveeno in a tub of lukewarm water will do the trick; don't use hot water as it aggravates dry skin. Make sure you don't stay in the water for longer than twenty minutes, or risk losing more moisture. After the shower, pat yourself dry and apply moisturizer to the affected areas.
Always wear sunscreen during the day: sun exposure is a leading cause of dry skin and wrinkles. Even then, try to stay in the shade between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is at its most concentrated.
When do you go to see the doctor? Rule of thumb for all dry skin problems is to schedule a visit when the dryness and itchiness become severe enough to interfere with common daily activities, such as self-care and sleeping. If you have dry peeling skin, also visit the doctor when the problem escalates with taking a new medication, or if the dry peeling skin comes with a rash.