Why does skin start to peel?

Dry, peeling skin is most commonly a sign of damage to the upper layer of your skin (epidermis) caused by sunburn.

In less common cases, peeling skin can be a sign of an immune system disorder or other illness. If your peeling skin isn’t caused by a sunburn, talk to your healthcare provider before trying home remedies.

How to stop peeling after it’s started

If your skin has started peeling after sunburn, there are things you can do to stop it from getting worse. As tempting as it is, don’t pull your peeling skin off. Instead, allow it to slough off your body on its own.

Here are some treatment methods and tips to stop the peeling once it’s started.

Take a pain reliever

Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin. These medications work to reduce the inflammation and redness surrounding your sunburn. They can also reduce the pain associated with having a sunburn.

Use a soothing anti-inflammatory cream

Apply a topical anti-inflammatory cream to your sunburn, such as aloe vera or cortisone cream. Or — as long as you aren’t allergic to aspirin — crush up a few aspirin tablets into a fine powder and add just enough water until it forms a goopy paste. Apply this to the areas of your body affected by sunburn.

Avoid petroleum-based or other oil-based creams as these may trap heat and make your sunburn and peeling even worse.

Try to moisturize right after you bathe, when your skin is still damp, to help seal in moisture.

Take a cool bath

Take a cool (just below lukewarm) bath. This can help ease the pain of your sunburn and stop your skin from peeling further.

Avoid showering if your skin is blistered in addition to peeling, as showering may pop your blisters and trigger more peeling.

Do not use soaps or bath oils when you bathe. These can make your peeling worse.

Be gentle with your skin

Avoid rubbing your skin with a towel after you bathe. This can make peeling worse. Instead, pat your skin dry with a towel.

Make a cool compress

Place a cool, wet compress on your skin for 20 to 30 minutes to soothe irritation and stop peeling. Be sure not to apply ice directly to your skin as that may cause further irritation.

Stay hydrated

Make sure you keep your skin hydrated by consuming at least eight 8-ounce glasses of clear liquids a day while you recover from your sunburn. This will help reduce peeling.

Keep it covered

Protect your peeling skin from further damage by keeping it covered with clothing and/or a very thin layer of sunscreen with an SPF of 45 or higher.

How long does peeling last?

In most cases, your skin will start to peel about three days after you get burned.  Peeling usually stops when the burn has healed — about seven days for milder burns.

It’s important to monitor your sunburn for signs of a severe burn, including:

  • blistering or peeling over large areas of your body, such as the entire back
  • fever or chills
  • feeling woozy or confused

Sunburns of this severity require medical attention.

Sunburns — even ones that aren’t severe — can cause severe damage to your skin. Sunburns substantially increase your chances of possibly deadly skin cancer and put you at risk of premature aging.

Always protect your skin with clothing or sunscreen and avoid direct sun exposure by spending time outside when the sun is lowest in the sky — in the early morning and evening.