What Are the Common Causes of Red Flaky Skin?

Elizabeth West

Exposed flesh can become dry and chapped due to a variety of outdoor elements, including exposure to the sun as well as dry, windy conditions. Fungal infections can also contribute to the problem. The result is inflammation and red flaky skin. Usually a good lotion or moisturizer will help, and there are medicated varieties containing ingredients that ease itching. A serious condition with skin problems as a symptom will often need medical attention before any lotions or other remedies will work.

A moisturizer for red, flaky skin.
A moisturizer for red, flaky skin.

Sunburn is a notorious dry skin trigger and can occur in winter as well as summer months, especially with outdoor enthusiasts. Skin burned by the sun can peel so badly an entire layer of skin may be lost. Peeling skin is delicate, and cracks and tears can lead to infection if care is not taken to avoid scratching and pulling. Ringworm, a fungal infection that produces a circular, itchy rash and red flaky skin, is highly contagious. If ringworm occurs on the scalp, a medicated shampoos is usually recommended.

If ringworm occurs on the scalp, a medicated shampoo is usually recommended.
If ringworm occurs on the scalp, a medicated shampoo is usually recommended.

Medications sometimes produce red flaky skin as a side effect. Acne medications, whether topical or oral, are known to do this, as they are formulated to dry excess sebum, or skin oil, that causes breakouts. Retinoids used for anti-aging purposes can do the same thing.

Psoriasis and eczema are cutaneous conditions that cause serious itching and red flaky skin. While psoriasis is believed to be an autoimmune response, different types of eczema such as contact dermatitis can result from exposure to an allergic irritant. Atopic dermatitis generally runs in families and presents in childhood, with those who are also subject to asthma or hay fever.

Medicated lotions that contain pramoxine hydrochloride, a topical anesthetic, can help with itching and discomfort as well as soften the skin. The best time to apply these is after a bath or shower when the skin is damp to seal in moisture. Very hot water should be avoided so as not to irritate the skin any further and make flaking worse.

Dry, itchy and red flaky skin may appear due to certain serious medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders like lupus. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) may present with skin-related symptoms. Neuropathy, or damage to nerves in the extremities that is commonly seen in advanced diabetes, can cause excessive dryness and peeling.

Red flaky skin from environmental triggers can usually be treated with moisturizers. During winter or in dry climates, a good skin care regimen with mild cleanser and emollients will take care of the problem. In the case of eczema or psoriasis, medical attention is usually needed, especially if cracks in the skin have become infected. Topical corticosteroids may be prescribed to heal lesions. If red flaky skin is a symptom of an underlying medical disorder such as an autoimmune disease, the medical issue will have to be addressed before the dryness will go away.

An allergic reaction to skin lotion can cause red, flaky skin.
An allergic reaction to skin lotion can cause red, flaky skin.

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Discussion Comments


@heavanet- Another good way to help this common skin problem is to use natural products since red, flaky skin is often the result of an allergic reaction to certain chemicals and additives.

There are many companies that specialize in making all-natural products, including a variety of oils. Anyone who has red, flaky skin should give natural skin care products a try to see if switching to these products helps.


Regardless of the cause of red, flaky skin, a good way to soothe it until it heals is to apply a moisturizing baby oil after taking a hot shower. Though you still need to seek medical advice for a diagnosis and may have to take medications, the oil and hot water will help make your skin feel better until it heals.

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