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What is Desquamation?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Desquamation is the loss of the upper layers of tissue, most classically the skin, although structures inside the body also lose cells in their upper layers as new cells develop underneath. This is a natural process, used by the body to provide a mechanism for shedding old cells as new cells develop. It can also be associated with the development of disease, where shedding skin can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem. People recovering from injuries to the upper layers of tissue, like rashes, also experience desquamation.

This word is derived from a Latin root used to refer to removing scales from fish. Healthy individuals experience this process every day as the dead skin cells making up the top layer of the skin are shed. Chronic skin conditions like eczema and dry skin are associated with flaking and loss of skin cells at a more rapid rate than normal. Another common cause of this phenomenon is sunburn, where the upper layers of the skin peel away as the skin heals and new cells develop under the damaged tissue.

Certain infectious diseases like staph infections can also lead to sloughing the upper layers of skin, as can exposure to radiation. In some cases, the desquamation can be painful, as it may extend several layers down and the removal of the layers of skin can hurt. It is also also potentially unsightly when the upper skin peels off in sheets, and can leave patients with a layer of tender new skin that is too delicate to be exposed, causing discomfort.

People with conditions involving rapid production of new skin cells and increased desquamation can use a variety of tactics to manage their conditions, including applying creams and lotions and taking medications designed to suppress cell production. If tender skin is present, creams can keep the skin moist and supple and may reduce itching and irritation. Chronic skin conditions may not be curable, but they can be managed with careful medical care to keep patient as comfortable as possible and to reduce the severity of the condition.

Inside the body, the epithelial cells lining structures like the bladder are continually shed over time as new cells develop. This process allows the body to discard old cells with lost functionality to replace them with new cells, keeping the upper layers of internal tissues flexible and functional. Increases in the rate of desquamation can be indicative of problems like infection or inflammation.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Aug 26, 2014

Having some kind of chronic desquamation must be miserable. I can't imagine having to deal with peeling skin all the time, and not being able to do much about it. I know people with psoriasis sometimes have peeling.

I knew some venomous animals can cause tissue breakdown when they bite, but had no idea staph infection caused peeling like that. And staph can be so difficult to treat, too. It's awful to have it. My uncle got a staph infection in his leg while he was in the hospital after he had bypass surgery. He had to stay an extra week in the hospital while they treated him for it. The doctor said he was just lucky the staph didn't go to his heart. Don't even want to *think* about that!

By Grivusangel — On Aug 26, 2014

Some of the worst peeling I ever had was from windburn. I had my arm in the open window of a car for a three hour drive and when I got to my destination, my arm was red and the next day started to peel. It looked like it was going to peel right down to the bone! Of course, it didn't, but it felt like it was going to! I had some pretty tender skin under all that peeling.

I went to the college clinic and the doctor said it was "dry desquamation." Or peeling as a result of windburn. He said keep it moisturized and let the peeling take its course. I looked like I had some kind of plague for a couple of days.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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