Dermatology Eczema / Psoriasis

What causes skin on the fingertips to peel?

The skin on the fingertips can peel or crack, which can be both uncomfortable and concerning. Skin peeling on the fingertips is not uncommon, as most instances of peeling skin occur on the hands, feet, or lips.

While skin peeling is usually not a cause for serious concern, it can be associated with several medical conditions, so a prompt diagnosis is important.

Skin peeling on the fingertips can also be accompanied by other skin problems, such as a rash, itchiness, or dryness.

In this article, we look at 10 common causes of skin peeling on the fingertips and when it might be necessary to see a doctor.

Causes of skin peeling on fingertips

Skin peeling on fingertips can be caused by environmental factors or underlying conditions.

Environmental

Environmental causes of peeling skin are external rather than internal problems. This category can include the weather and finger-sucking in children.

1. Frequent hand-washing

Hand washing may lead to skin peeling on fingertips
Frequent hand-washing with soap may cause the fingertips to peel and crack.

Dry skin is a common condition and can make the skin peel and crack. Dry skin is often caused by frequent hand-washing with soap.

While frequent hand-washing is important to reduce the spread of harmful bacteria, using soap removes the skin’s protective oils. Once these oils are gone, the skin can no longer hold in moisture, causing dry skin or soap dermatitis.

People experiencing skin peeling on their fingertips because of frequent hand-washing are advised to wash their hands only when necessary, moisturize afterward, and avoid drying the skin with rough paper towels.

2. Climate

Very dry weather conditions can also dry out the skin, causing it to peel or crack. This can happen in dry winter weather, especially if someone does not wear warm gloves when spending time outdoors.

3. Sunburn

Sunburn causes damage to the skin via ultraviolet (UV) rays. The skin can become red, warm, sore, and tender before it starts to peel or flake.

While most sunburns are mild and resolve within a week, they can also increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.

A person with sunburn should stay out of the sun and use lotions such as aloe vera to keep their skin moisturized while it is healing.

4. Finger-sucking

Finger or thumb-sucking in children is relatively common but can lead to painful sores and peeling skin on the fingertips. While most children grow out of this habit, they may require encouragement and monitoring at first.

Similar to nail-biting, some adults may also suck or chew the fingers when stressed or out of habit.

5. Chemicals

Around 13 million people in the United States have jobs that may expose their skin to harmful chemicals. This includes jobs in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.

Many cleaning products, soaps, and solvents also have chemicals in them that can make the skin dry or irritated.

Someone who is regularly exposed to chemicals should be sure to wear protective clothing and wash and moisturize their hands regularly.

Underlying conditions

A range of underlying medical conditions can cause the skin on the fingertips to peel, including:

6. Hand eczema

Hand eczema is a common condition that affects around 10 percent of the U.S. population. It is also known as hand dermatitis.

Hand eczema may cause skin peeling on fingertips
Hand eczema or hand dermatitis may cause the skin to peel on the fingertips.

Eczema on the hands may be caused by genetics or by coming into contact with an allergen or an irritant.

People who work in certain industries are more likely to be affected. These industries include:

  • cleaning
  • catering
  • healthcare
  • hairdressing
  • mechanics

7. Exfoliative keratolysis

Exfoliative keratolysis is a common skin condition that causes peeling. It is more likely to occur in the summer months and frequently affects young adults.

Superficial air-filled blisters can appear on the fingertips and then burst, leaving peeled areas. These areas can then become red, dry, and cracked, but they are usually not itchy.

While the exact cause is unknown, exfoliative keratolysis may be aggravated by exposure to irritants, such as soap, detergents, and solvents. A person may benefit by using mild, chemical-free soaps and avoid certain cleaning products.

8. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, inflamed patches of skin. It is more common on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back than the fingertips, but it can appear anywhere on the body.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells. It is not contagious.

A person with psoriasis may experience psoriasis flare-ups, which are when the condition worsens. Flare-ups can be triggered by many external factors, including injuries, diet, humidity, and stress.

There is no cure but treatment to relieve psoriasis symptoms includes special creams or ointments applied to the skin, topical corticosteroids, and phototherapy.

9. Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a person touches something they are allergic to. For example, if someone has a nickel allergy, their skin may become irritated, crack, or peel if they touch nickel.

Also, some natural poisons, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, have the same effect.

10. Kawasaki disease

Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that mainly affects children under 5 years of age. The most noticeable symptom is a high temperature that lasts more than 5 days. Kawasaki disease can also cause peeling skin on the fingertips.

Kawasaki disease must be treated in hospital and can have serious consequences, so immediate diagnosis is vital. Heart complications occur in around 5 percent of cases, and 1 percent of cases are fatal.

When to see a doctor

Most cases of skin peeling on the fingertips are mild and can be treated easily at home with moisturizer and by avoiding irritants. Some, however, are caused by underlying medical conditions that should be diagnosed by a doctor.

A person should speak to a doctor if they experience:

  • signs of infection
  • peeling lasting more than 2 weeks
  • peeling that does not improve with conservative treatments
  • symptoms that become worse over time

A person may have allergies they do not know about, but a doctor will often be able to diagnose these with a patch test.

Prevention

There are some simple tips and lifestyle changes a person can follow to prevent skin peeling or cracking on the fingertips. These include:

  • washing hands with warm water rather than hot water
  • wearing gloves when washing dishes or using cleaning products
  • wearing warm gloves outside during cold weather
  • using moisturizer after fingertips have been in contact with water

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