Why Does Skin Peel After Sunburn?

Lawrence Jaeger is a medical, surgical & cosmetic dermatologist who provides useful information on sunburn and skin peeling.

Ways to Prevent Skin Peeling After Sunburn

Why Does Skin Peel After Sunburn?

A sunburn is the skin’s response to extreme ultraviolet (UV) exposure and indicates severe damage. In as little as 10 minutes of intense UV exposure, the skin sets into motion a system of defense against this enemy.

We know how important sunscreen is, but sometimes, no matter how much you reapply, you may still end a hot summer day with a sunburn. A few days go by and the peeling process begins. The peeling of skin is a sign that your skin is recovering and trying to heal.

UV Damaged Skin

The sun produces ultraviolet radiation, more commonly referred to as UV radiation. In just 10 minutes of sun exposure, skin can start a self-protective process from the UV radiation. Redness is the first sign of too much sun exposure. Skin often becomes tight because of the loss of moisture. On some occasions, the top layer of skin becomes darker and thicker, in a protective response to the UV radiation exposure, creating a “tan” look. However, in most instances, the UV radiation is more intense and kills the exposed skin cells, and in turn creates a sunburn reaction. UV also leads to an increase in epidermal thickness, termed hyperkeratosis.

Skin Peeling & Recovery.

After sunburn the body naturally forms a new layer of skin to replace the old damaged skin. The new layer takes approximately 4 to 7 days to fully form. During the formation, the new layer of skin is fragile; therefore the sunburned skin acts as a shield until the under layer is fully developed.

The peeling occurs once the freshly formed skin cells are established enough to function as the outer layer of skin. Peeling is gradual. It is important not to rush the process and peel the skin yourself. If your skin peels too early it may prompt tenderness or bleeding.

Sunburn is often painful and clearly damaging to skin. Remember to put on sunscreen daily to protect your skin and avoid the peeling process.


Seek Dermatological Treatment.

Although most sunburns heal on their own with simple home care, severe burns from either the sun or a tanning bed may require medical attention. See your doctor as soon as possible if you experience a sunburn that leads to the formation of skin blisters or is so painful that you cannot function normally.