What is desquamation? Causes and Treatment

The peeling of the skin, or more commonly peeling skin, is a process of regeneration of the cells of the epidermis. It is characterized by the detachment of pieces of skin. This is a completely normal and natural phenomenon that can sometimes be associated with a more serious disease or skin problem.

What causes desquamation? How to prevent and relieve? Let’s take stock of the desquamation together.

What is desquamation?

Definition of desquamation

Desquamation refers to the normal or pathological removal of the stratum corneum of the skin, that is to say, the outer layer of the epidermis (itself the outer layer of the skin). It can affect all areas of the body, such as the eyebrows, skull, face, or feet. If it is the scalp that peels because the peeling is abnormal (in this case, excessive), it is called dandruff.

Skin cells (called epithelial cells) from the stratum corneum are constantly detached and are replaced by new cells that grow back. Desquamation is therefore a process allowing the regeneration of epidermal cells. Dander refers to the tips, lamellae, or flaps of skin that come off.

Skin functions

Remember that the skin is the largest and heaviest organ of the human body. It has several crucial roles, including the protection of the body against harmful elements of the environment (such as wind, heat, dryness, moisture, germs, etc.), hormonal synthesis, or hormonal function.

What causes peeling skin?

Skin allergy

An allergy to certain products or substances can cause peeling, we speak of contact dermatitis (of allergic or irritative origin) or contact eczema. For example, it may be an allergy to:


beauty products that are unsuitable for your skin;

Detergent products.

It can be an allergy to a substance such as perfume, or a beauty product. The use of detergent products can also cause peeling, especially on the hands.

Skin burns

Burns are skin lesions that can be caused by several sources. We distinguish:

Thermal burns;

Chemical burns;

Cold burns;

Burns by the sun’s rays.

It is not uncommon for the skin to peel off after such burns.

A dermatological disease

Some inflammatory diseases, such as psoriasis, cause peeling of the skin. In affected people, skin cells are renewed every 3 to 6 days, compared to 28 to 30 days normally. There are other skin diseases involved:

  • infectious diseases, such as measles, rubella, or scarlet fever;
  • a fungal infection, such as athlete’s foot
  • seborrheic dermatitis (most often in the eyebrows);
  • or in rarer cases, skin cancer.

Other causes of peeling

Other possible causes are:

  • a reaction due to taking a medicine (certain antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • vitamin (vitamin D) deficiency
  • showers that are too hot or too frequent;
  • tattoos (exclusively on the tattooed area).

What are the consequences of desquamation?

If peeling is not managed, it can in some cases lead to itching, which can cause lesions or localized infection.

If, for example, the skin peels due to overexposure to the sun, the burned cells will give way to new, and therefore more fragile, cells. This frequently happens on the shoulders, face, and back.

Finally, unaesthetic, even embarrassing, peeling can cause the person who suffers from it to withdraw oneself.

How to treat and prevent flaky skin?


In many cases, such as following a sunburn, peeling does not require medical consultation. The application of a suitable moisturizing and soothing cream is a good solution. Moisturizing your skin daily helps protect yourself against external aggressions.

On the other hand, if the symptom is severe, it lasts or the cause is not identified, then it is advisable to go see a doctor before trying to take a medication or apply a cream that would not be suitable.

Drug treatments

The doctor (dermatologist) will suggest treatment based on the cause of the peeling:

  • an antifungal in the case of a fungal infection;
  • an emollient or moisturizing cream, or corticosteroids in the case of psoriasis;
  • taking vitamins in the case of a specific vitamin deficiency;
  • an anti-dandruff shampoo (containing tar or zinc) in case of excessive peeling of the scalp;
  • or taking antihistamines in the case of an allergy.

Image Credit: Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA from pexels.com

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