Why does the skin on the hands sometimes peel?

We naturally use our hands a lot and expose them to sun, water, irritants and allergens. The skin can then become damaged and peel. For some, the skin may peel due to dry skin. It can peel due to certain skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, which can be uncomfortable and disrupt a person’s daily life.

Treatment for peeling hands varies depending on the cause but often involves moisturizing creams or ointments to moisturize the dry skin. Some cases may require the prescription of medications that help cure any underlying cause. This article examines peeling hands and the potential environmental and medical causes. It also discusses when a person should contact a doctor and how to prevent peeling hands.

Although hand washing is an excellent practice for good hygiene, the skin on the hands can peel if a person washes their hands too often. Also, if a person uses harsh soaps, water that is too hot, and does not moisturize after washing, they are at risk of developing skin problems on their hands. Although hand washing effectively sanitizes the hands, it also removes the natural oils that keep the skin healthy and hydrated. Another practice that can cause hands to become dry and peeling is using too much hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer has an alcohol-based formula that dries out the skin.


Here is a good routine to help prevent and treat dry hands from hand washing:

– Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
– Dry hands with a clean towel, leaving a little water on them.
– While skin is damp, apply moisturizing cream or ointment to skin, making sure it reaches fingertips and nails.
Dermatologists recommend using creams that are fragrance- and dye-free, and contain petroleum jelly or mineral oil. If a person uses hand sanitizer, they should apply the cream or ointment as soon as the hand sanitizer has dried.

Climate and temperature

The climate can affect the skin of the hands. For example, in winter, the air humidity is lower, which can cause the skin of the palms to dry out, crack and peel.
Some people may find that if their hands sweat in hot weather, it can lead to irritation and flaking.

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To help relieve dry skin, you can:

– apply moisturizer after bath or shower
– avoid soaps that contain perfumes or alcohol
– apply hand cream after each hand wash
– apply petroleum jelly to the hands before going to bed.


Staying too long in the sun can cause sunburn. It can affect any part of the body exposed to the sun, including the hands. As the sunburn heals, the skin may peel. This peeling occurs when the body sheds damaged skin and creates a new top layer.


To treat sunburn, a person can:

– take frequent, cool baths and showers to relieve pain
– apply moisturizers containing soy or aloe vera to the skin, especially after showering, to reduce dryness.
– drink more water
– cover burned areas while they heal to prevent further sun damage
– use a light topical cortisone cream to help calm the inflamed skin.

Hand dermatitis

Hand dermatitis is also called hand eczema. It represents 20 to 35% of all forms of dermatitis.

Hand eczema can be caused by genetics, irritants and allergens.

Symptoms of eczema are:

– itches
– dry and sensitive skin
– inflamed and discolored skin
– patches of rough skin
– oozing or crusting

Atopic dermatitis of the hands

This type of eczema occurs when the barrier function of the skin is impaired. It is normally triggered by contact with irritating agents. It typically presents as vesicles or discoids. Gallbladder eczema presents as itchy patches of flesh-colored blisters. It often results from sweating. Discoid eczema presents as scattered, well-defined patches. It can result from dry skin, scratching, or contact dermatitis.

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Irritation and contact dermatitis

When an irritant or allergen comes into contact with the body, the immune system kicks in and produces inflammation, causing the symptoms of eczema. Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition that occurs when an allergen comes into contact with the skin. Common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include poison ivy, nickel, and rubber gloves. Allergic contact dermatitis manifests as redness, swelling, and blistering. If the blisters rupture, they may harden and then the skin may peel.
Some people may be sensitive to fragrances in personal care products such as soaps, moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners.
Exposure to these chemicals can cause peeling of the skin on the hands. Harsh chemicals in cleaning products can also cause skin to peel after exposure. It is always best to use rubber gloves to avoid skin contact with chemicals.


Treatment for eczema consists of:

– reduce contact with irritants, including water
– use a soap-free cleanser to wash your hands
– the application of emollient creams and their reapplication after washing the hands.
– Medications to treat eczema include topical steroids.

Palmoplantar psoriasis

Psoriasis is a condition that occurs as a result of an overactive immune system. It leads to inflammation of the skin. Inflammation may appear as raised patches or scales on the skin. When psoriasis appears on the hands or soles of the feet, medical professionals call it palmoplantar psoriasis. A person with psoriasis on the hands may experience dry, thickened skin with painful cracks.
It may look like hand dermatitis.


A person can treat mild cases with topical treatments, including:

– emollients
– topical steroids


Some infections can cause the hands to peel. This is the case with tinea manuum, a fungal infection that often begins on the palms and can spread to the backs of the hands and fingertips. It causes rash-like lesions, which may peel.

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A person with tinea manuum may develop skin on the hands that is:

– thickened
– itchy
– dry
– scaly


Treatment includes topical antifungals.

Acral peeling skin syndrome (APSS)

APSS is a very rare skin condition where the top layer of skin peels off painlessly. In most cases, this condition affects the hands and feet, but it can also affect the arms and legs. Desquamation usually begins at birth. However, it may become evident during childhood or later in life. Exposure to heat and humidity aggravates this condition.


There is no treatment for SPPA. However, a person can apply skin-softening ointments, such as petroleum jelly, to help manage symptoms.

When to contact a doctor

Many causes of peeling hands can be treated at home by using moisturizers. People should see a doctor if their peeling hands do not improve despite regular moisturizing treatments and other home treatments. They should also contact a doctor if their skin becomes infected.


It can help prevent some causes of peeling hands. Moisturizing the skin of the hands and staying well hydrated can help prevent dry skin and treat other causes of peeling skin. Using gloves when working with chemicals helps prevent any adverse reactions to skin contact. People with known fragrance allergies should avoid products containing these chemicals to reduce the possibility of reactions, such as peeling skin.


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