The skin between the toes can peel for a variety of reasons, including allergic reactions, bacterial and fungal infections, or nerve damage.
Continue reading to find out potential causes of skin peeling between the toes and how to treat it.
Conditions that can cause skin peeling between the toes include:
Shoe contact dermatitis
A reaction to specific shoe materials may cause peeling between the toes.
One of the most common causes of skin peeling between the toes is known as shoe contact dermatitis.
Most people spend a lot of time wearing shoes, which contain a variety of materials, including adhesives, rubber, and dyes.
Sometimes, the materials in a shoe can irritate the feet, causing an allergic reaction. If irritated, the skin may become flaky and peel.
Allergens responsible for causing shoe contact dermatitis can vary depending on the style of the shoe and how it is manufactured. For example, one study found that all 18 of the study participants had an allergic reaction, which was probably due to the presence of a particular compound that forms during the manufacturing process of certain brands of canvas shoes.
Contact dermatitis is not contagious, but a rash can spread from one area of the body to another.
The symptoms of shoe contact dermatitis include:
Despite its name, you do not have to be an athlete to get athlete's foot. Anyone can get it, including those who do not do much exercise. Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus called Trichophyton.
The fungus is often present on the skin and is usually harmless. However, it is particularly prevalent in moist areas, such as locker rooms, showers, and public pools.
These warm, damp environments provide the perfect conditions for the fungus to thrive and grow. Warm, moist shoes can also allow the fungus to grow.
Athlete's foot can affect one or both feet. Peeling between the toes often starts with the smaller toes before spreading.
Athlete's foot can be spread from person to person through direct contact or from contaminated surfaces.
Additional symptoms of athlete's foot include:
- cracked skin
Trench foot or immersion foot occurs when the feet remain wet and cold for an extended time, causing tissue damage.
Damage to the nerves, blood vessels, and the skin can occur, which may lead to skin peeling. Trench foot is not contagious.
Trench foot symptoms include:
Dyshidrotic eczema affects the fingers, toes, and soles of the feet.
Dyshidrotic eczema can cause itchy blisters on the fingers, toes, and the soles of the feet. Although the condition varies between individuals, the blisters can last for several weeks.
According to the National Eczema Association, dyshidrotic eczema is most common in adults from 20 to 40 years old.
This type of eczema is associated with seasonal allergies and high stress levels. It also tends to develop more often during the spring allergy season.
Dyshidrotic eczema cannot be passed on to other people.
Additional symptoms of dyshidrotic eczema on the toes may include:
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the tissues under the skin. Different types of bacteria often live harmlessly on the skin. However, some bacteria can enter the skin through scrapes and cuts and lead to an infection in the deeper layers.
Cellulitis can develop anywhere on the skin but is most common in the lower legs and can spread to the feet. Cellulitis is not contagious.
- skin that is warm to the touch
- blisters may develop and peel as they heal
Treatment for skin peeling between the toes will depend on the underlying cause. For example, if an infection has caused the skin to peel, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
Other treatment recommendations include:
Using topical medication
Applying medicated creams and ointments to the skin between the toes and the feet may help. Medications containing hydrocortisone may decrease inflammation and itching.
If a fungus caused the infection, as in the case of athlete's foot, a person should use antifungal creams to treat their skin. Antifungal creams are available over-the-counter, but stronger creams are available by prescription if required.
If contact dermatitis is causing the skin between the toes to peel, identifying and avoiding the allergen responsible can help prevent symptoms from developing.
Applying a barrier cream to the skin between the toes may help reduce friction from the shoes.
Applying cool compresses
To reduce itching and burning, people may want to apply a cool compress for about 15 to 20 minutes four times a day.
Going barefoot when possible may help to prevent skin from peeling between the toes.
Everyone's feet may occasionally rub against their shoes and cause a little irritation. But there are things that a person can do that may prevent the skin between the toes from peeling, including:
- Preparing for the cold by wearing thick socks and appropriate shoes.
- Wearing sandals when walking around a locker room or public pool areas.
- Wearing socks made of wicking fabric that diverts moisture away from the skin.
- Keeping the toes as dry as possible.
- Avoiding shoes that are too tight.
- Not sharing shoes or socks with other people.
- Going barefoot when possible to allow the feet to dry out.
- Allowing shoes time to dry out before putting them back on.
When to see a doctor
Most people can treat skin peeling between the toes at home. However, sometimes it may be necessary to see a doctor.
A person should speak to a doctor if initial treatment does not work or if the following symptoms develop:
- the skin between the toes turns black
- red streaks appear on the feet
- feet are warm to the touch
- fever or chills occur
- a rash between the toes starts to leak fluid
Mild irritation and skin peeling between the toes is not usually due to a serious medical problem. However, peeling can also develop due to an infection, which may spread and become severe if left untreated
Even when not caused by an infection, peeling skin can still be irritating and uncomfortable. Fortunately, most cases can be easily treated at home or with prescription medication.
Preventative steps may also go a long way to decrease the chances of irritation and skin peeling between the toes.