Peeling skin can be annoying so let’s figure out its causes and how to help it and stop it.
Peeling skin is what happens when the outer layer of your skin is shed as your skin heals from damage. It can be caused by a burn, a bad reaction to medication or to a skincare product.
In most cases, treatment is fairly simple and involves over-the-counter remedies. That being said, peeling skin could also be a sign of underlying health conditions in which case getting a professional opinion from your physician is crucial.
What causes peeling skin?
Peeling skin is something that can bother you all year round. Whether it be due to windburn, sunburn or wearing masks (thanks miss Rona) with a lot of moisture being trapped under the mask which can ultimately damage your skin barrier and lead to a lot of peeling.
In addition to that, a lot of you guys are maybe starting a retinol or prescription retinoid routine. You can read more about what to expect when starting retinol here. But long story short, it can cause a lot of peeling in the beginning.
Sometimes the skin can get really flaky and peel from irritating products. And of course during the winter when the moisture drops in the air when your skin starts peeling and flaking. The peeling and flaking can often be a sign of an impaired moisture barrier which, all things considered, is a cry for help.
What should I do?
1. Take a closer look at the product ingredients:
First of all, take a look at the products that you’re using. If you’re using products that are exfoliating then you definitely want to take a break from those. The last thing you want to do is attempt to exfoliate your skin while its still healing. It will only worsens the problem and your moisture barrier at that point is not able to handle additional exfoliants.
Look out for these ingredients specifically:
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) including Glycolic, Mandelic and Lactic acids;
- Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) otherwise known as Salicylic acid;
- Any retinoid or retinol whether it is by prescription or it is an over-the-counter retinol serum .
These ingredients cause the skin cells to turn over a little bit more quickly, causing some peeling.
Just because your skin is peeling, doesn’t mean that the product is not going to be helpful for you long term. It means that you should back off from it for a little while to allow your skin some time to recover.
2. Did you just start a retinol/retinoid treatment?
For those of you in the beginning stages of starting a new retinol or retinoid it is very common to experience a lot of peeling. In this case you may want to take a break from the retinol or retinoid or at least reduce the frequency with which you are using it.
It’s best to introduce retinol or retinoid into your skincare routine very slowly, starting with just using it one night a week. And then slowly bumping it up to every other night, as tolerated, upwards to nightly. However if you’re getting excessive peeling instead of leaving it on overnight try just using it once a week and leaving it on for a couple of hours and then washing it off to reduce the contact time. It will starts to allow you to get used to it and may help with the peeling.
The other thing is to take a look at how much you’re using. You really don’t need very much. All you need is a pea sized amount to create a thin film. Using more product does not necessarily lead to better results, it just a waste of the product you only need a thin film and make sure that you are using it along side a moisturizer to address the moisture barrier and help reduce trans-epidermal water loss.
3. Stop picking at your flaky skin!
Do not pick the flaky skin. I know it’s hard not to, but this is just another form of aggressive exfoliation. Picking the flaky skin it’s just going to prolong this situation.
4. Do not use facial scrubs!
Likewise resist the urge to use any kind of facial scrub, exfoliant, spin brush or excessive scrubbing of the skin in order to remove the flakes. That’s not only going to prolong the course but it’s just going to dry out your skin further and lead to more irritation.
5. Cleanse less
Reduce the frequency with which you are cleansing the skin. The last thing you want to do when you’re going through peeling is to be cleansing numerous times a day. Cleansing multiple times a day will further dry out the moisture barrier and lead to more water loss and, subsequently, more peeling.
Make sure that you keep your water temperature lukewarm. You also want to limit the amount of time that you spend in the shower or in the bath. The longer that you are in the shower or the bath the more moisture is going to be pulled out of your skin. So keep your shower or bath to no more than 10 minutes. And again use lukewarm to cool water to cleanse the skin.
Do not to Pick, Peel, Scrub or attempt to exfoliate the peeling skin!
How to stop skin peeling?
1. Moisturize your skin
You want to make sure that you are moisturizing your skin as frequently as possible. When it comes to choosing a moisturizer opt for ones that have ceramides. This will help in facilitating healing.
One of my favorite facial moisturizers is actually a body moisturizer. It is of course the CeraVe cream.
You want to make sure that you put moisturizer on at night before you go to bed. Because the skin loses more water at night, worsening dryness peeling and irritation. It’s also a good idea when you’re in the throes of a lot of peeling to moisturize again in the morning. And you may want to put more moisturizer on again at some other point throughout the day.
2. Use a petrolatum based ointment
But when you’re really in the throes of an impaired skin barrier, the barrier is weak. You need a skin protectant on board and that’s going to come in the form of either an ointment or a balm.
My favorite product to protect the skin especially when the skin is raw and you’re going through a lot of peeling is, of course, the CeraVe healing ointment. This is petrolatum based so it really is going to act as second skin and reduce water loss from the skin. It also has ceramides in it which again will kind of help your skin barrier.
I know a lot of people doubt that petrolatum is actually helpful. But it is very useful because it creates a barrier between your skin and irritant agents. It allows for a moist environment underneath the layer of petrolatum on the skin where your skin cells can happily migrate in to the area and fill in that defect of the impaired barrier.
3. Use a balm
If you don’t like putting petrolatum on you face and you find it greasy, you might want to consider using a balm.
I believe using a balm can be very effective for those of you coping with windburn, cold-burn, or maybe you have sustained a sunburn. You want something that’s going to act like second skin. And maybe have some ingredients that encourage healing.
You can’t go wrong with La Roche Posay Cicaplast Balm B5. It has Centella which is known for its skin healing properties. Making this balm a great product to consider lathering your face with. Especially as you go out in the elements when the skin is peeling.
4. Use facial oils
One other option beyond just putting a moisturizer on, is face oils. You may be surprised by this recommendation. But I think it’s particularly useful in this scenario.
Maybe try using a facial oil as a spot treatment. Why? Well, facial oils are an emollient. Emollients soften skin cell edges. They can slip between those cells that are trying to slough off. They can smooth things out and help lift things up, while simultaneously putting lipid down. Which is useful. Oils are not going to reduce water loss out of the skin. They’re not going to act as second skin, but they’re a way to really improve the look of flaky skin and ultimately help in the cosmetic look of the flaky skin.
The good molecules have some affordable oils that can be effective. The ultra hydrating facial oil is a good choice.
It has sea buckthorn oil in it. Which is packed with antioxidants that can help fight off free radical damage that slows down healing. It’s also got tea seed oil in it, another antioxidant packed oil, and omega fatty acids.
For some people, especially those with acne-prone skin, oils can aggravate acne. If that’s you, you might want to be wary of this approach. But in general I do find that it is an effective way to just improve the look of flaky skin as opposed to attempting to pick and peel the skin.
Most people think they should scrub their skin to look better.
It works for the short term. But it ultimately makes things worst, and you end up dealing with it longer.
When you’re in a situation where your skin is just really flaky, putting moisturizer can end up looking tacky. And it’s just not something you want to walk around with. Try moisturizing oils.
5. Use sunscreen
It’s important to protect your kin when it’s peeling. Remember that peeling is a clue that your moisture barrier is impaired. Your skin is more vulnerable so you definitely want to protect that flaky skin from the sun. Especially if you’re dealing with a sunburn. UV rays are very damaging and will slow the healing process.
Not only that, but it will also increase the risk of hyperpigmentation. You need to be mindful of sun exposure, not only when you’re outdoors, but also indoors.
I recommend using a mineral sunscreen. They tend to be less irritating overall and they have zinc in them. This ingredient has healing properties. It’s soothing and has anti-inflammatory properties. So it will work in your favor. And a lot of you know most zinc sunscreens act as a barrier similar to the balm. Click here for our in-depth article about SPF and the best sunscreen recommendations.
6. Stop experimenting
It is not the time to be adventurous and try new products. You should especially stay away from things that have fragrance.
Like we said before, flakiness and peeling are a sign of an impaired moisture barrier. Which is going to allow more stuff to get into your skin and irritate it.
Keep it really really simple. Just stick to a gentle cleanser, a good moisturizer and your daily sunscreen and maybe try a facial oil to soften that flakiness.
A final conclusion on stopping peeling skin
If the peeling lasts for more than a few weeks, and it does not get better, definitely consult a dermatologist to make sure that you’re not dealing with some serious health issues.