Peeling skin: Causes and remedies for this common yet annoying problem

How to soothe this frustrating peeling skin dilemma.

Written by
Tori Crowther
Medically reviewed by
min read
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There’s nothing pleasant about peeling skin. It can be annoying, uncomfortable, and well, a downright nuisance. But peeling skin is completely normal, albeit not ideal. 

Having said that, there are plenty of things you can do to combat the skin peel, especially if it’s a side effect of skincare treatments like retinol

To help you rid your frustrating peeling skin dilemma, we’ve got a guide on everything you need to know. We break down exactly what causes peeling skin, how long it lasts and the treatment options out there to avoid it happening, plus how to speed up that healing process.

What causes skin peeling?

There are a number  (we’re talking a lot!) of reasons you might be experiencing peeling. They can, for the most part, be broken down into 4 sections: damage, skin conditions, treatments and medical conditions. 


  • Sunburn: The most common cause of acute severe peeling is sunburn caused by UV rays.  
  • Chemical or heat burns: The former is from chemicals that are toxic to the skin and can cause boils, blistering and peeling. The latter is caused by thermal damage from things like cooking and heated hair styling tools. 

Skin conditions 

  • Dry skin: It might sound obvious but it doesn’t take long for dry skin to turn into shedding. Particularly cold and/or dry air speeds up this skin-flaking process. 
  • Irritated skin/contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is caused by allergens, including perfumes or detergents that are irritating to the skin. 
  • Eczema: Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes dry, itchy, sore and cracked skin. 
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes patches of dry, scaly skin that can pick and peel off. 
  • Athlete’s foot: A common fungal infection, athlete’s foot can cause itchy, dry and peeling skin, often occurring in between the toes.


  • Retinoids: Thanks to their ability to increase cell turnover, retinoids can cause flaking and peeling in a process called purging [1]. This is actually a good sign as it means the product is working but it does mean a few weeks of flaky skin.
  • Chemical peels: The aim of a chemical peel is actually to cause skin peeling [2], your practitioner will guide you on how much is normal and how to keep your skin safe. 
  • Chemotherapy and radiation: Unfortunately, some types of radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause dry, itchy and peeling skin.

Medical conditions 

There are some medical conditions, like peeling skin syndrome (PSS) and some infectious diseases that cause the skin to peel. If this is likely the cause of your peeling skin issues, please seek medical advice before trying to treat peeling skin yourself using.

How long does skin peeling last?

It all depends on what has caused your peeling skin but in the case of retinoid-induced peeling skin, it can hang around for a few weeks to a month. The good news is, this won't last forever, just as long as it takes for your skin to get used to it.

If you're dealing with peeling for longer than this, you should visit your GP or a board-certified dermatologist who can get to the root cause of the issue. 

Should I remove peeling skin?

No matter the cause of your peeling skin, you should avoid picking at it. Picking at it and peeling further could cause more damage. Your skin is designed to shed naturally so it will come away by itself. By excessively picking at it, you could end up opening up wounds or exposing your skin, risking infection. 

When it comes to retinoids, the best thing you can do is keep on top of moisturising to help soothe dry skin. Grab your favourite thick cream and slather it on to inject hydration and leave your skin feeling smooth and soft

You can also try using a very gentle exfoliator to slough off the dead skin. But this should be done with caution and care. Avoid using harsh exfoliators but ingredients like salicylic acid can do a great job of gently clearing away dead skin cells.

Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash is a handy product for such a task thanks to its gentle exfoliating properties and sloughing away dead skin cells. Use 2-3 times per week to help keep peeling skin at bay.

How to get rid of peeling skin

So, how to get rid of peeling skin? The golden question. There are a few ways — here's how to handle it.

Moisturising more

The simplest way to avoid and rid yourself of peeling if it's caused by dryness is to keep on top of moisturising. It seems obvious but it's a good reminder to keep your skincare routine up every morning and night to ensure you're delivering nourishment to your skin to help calm the peeling situation down.

Software's Ceramide Repair Balm is designed to nourish skin and inject moisture-retaining ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid and squalane. This non-comedogenic formula protects the skin barrier and infuses hydration to help reduce the occurrence of dry and flaky skin.

For extra hydration, try our Hydration Booster, packed with the Ceramide Repair Balm, as well as our Hydrogel Face Masks and Hyaluronic Complex Serum.

Avoiding irritants

Another simple but effective one. If you’ve found that things like fragranced lotions or laundry detergents, for example, are causing irritation, avoid those triggers and solve the problem very quickly. This is especially important if you have sensitive skin.

Avoiding sun exposure

Avoiding sun exposure at peak times, sitting in the shade, and wearing sunscreen and UV protective clothing will help you avoid the probability of sunburned skin and experiencing the dreaded skin peel as a result.

Software's Daily Sun Defence SPF50+ is formulated with UVA and UVB filters, which may help reduce the risk of photoageing, sun spots, some skin cancers and burning. This will help reduce the chance of peeling skin as a result.

Say goodbye to hot water while showering

We all love hot showers once in a while but opting for colder showers or at least warm water can really help avoid dry skin and maintain that protective barrier.

And while we're talking about bathing, make sure you pat your skin dry rather than vigorous rubbing, which can exacerbate damaged skin.

How to combat peeling skin from skincare ingredients

As much as skincare can help heal dry skin, it can also be a very common cause of dry skin — confusing we know. 

There are certain ingredients, clinical-strength creams and chemical peels that are known to cause skin peeling, including the aforementioned retinoids. Although they’re referred to as the gold standard in combating premature ageing, hyperpigmentation, acne and much more, they're also the main culprit for peeling.

It's all to do with cell turnover. Retinoids increase this turnover, sloughing away dead skin cells to reveal brighter, more radiant skin, which is exactly what it's designed to do. This is why Software uses it in our personalised formulations — depending on your skin concerns.

Our Australian health practitioners can create a customised treatment for acne, pigmentation or ageing — simply tell us your skin goals via our online consult and our team will begin working on your formula.

While ingredients like retinoids are incredibly effective, it does take time for your skin to adjust. Start using the product just once a week and slowing build-up will eradicate the side effect of skin flaking and peeling from retinoids. 

In addition to this, with many medical-grade creams, you can use something called the “retinoid sandwich”, which is where you apply a layer of moisturiser, then your cream, and seal it in with another layer of moisturiser. This gives you the benefits of your retinoid without the side effects of excessive dryness or peeling. 

When it comes to repairing flaky skin, the best advice is to go low and slow. Start with a low-strength retinoid or medical treatment and slowly build up your tolerance to it. Find out what the root cause is, get professional advice if you need it, reach for those thick creams and very gently exfoliate if your skin isn’t irritated, open or sore. 

Photo credit: Getty Images

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