When skin is burnt by the sun, the top layer is damaged. The cells die and have to be replaced, which results in the top layer peeling off. The body does this anyway about once a month but at a much slower rate. The burnt skin will have to come off eventually, so it is not possible to prevent peeling altogether. There are some ways to ease the discomfort and shorten the amount of time it takes for the skin to peel completely.
It can take up to 48 hours to realize the extent of sunburn. As soon as you suspect that your skin has gotten too much sun, you should immediately apply a moisturizer. Aloe vera gel or a lotion containing aloe vera is soothing and will help the skin heal. Avoid lotions which have perfumes and chemicals such as benzocaine and lidocaine. Petroleum based products should also be avoided.
Within a day or two, your skin will peel. In severe cases, the skin will blister and actually form scabs before peeling. Blisters and scabs should be left alone. Bursting a blister or peeling a scab is painful and may cause infection. In mild cases, it does no harm to peel away the layer of dry skin cells.
Even without peeling the skin, it will eventually fall off. Your clothes will rub against it and it will come off while your are bathing. In some cases, you may feel the need to expedite the process.
The best way to get rid of peeling skin is to exfoliate. Start with a very gentle solution, like an oatmeal scrub. Make a paste using oatmeal and water and massage it into your skin.
You may also exfoliate with a soft loofah, which is especially useful for reaching your back. Rub your skin gently, and if it hurts, stop. Pain means that you are causing additional damage to your skin which will take even longer to heal.
If the oatmeal scrub isn't rough enough to remove the dry skin cells then try a natural bristle brush with a long handle. You can brush your skin while it is dry or brush it while bathing. In either case, you will probably have a large amount of skin cells come off, so exfoliate in an area which you can clean easily.
After bathing, pat your skin dry. Rubbing can cause excessive peeling. Remember to avoid using soaps with harsh detergents as these will further dry your skin.