Dry skin often appears on the heels and sides of the feet and between the toes. It may make the affected area feel itchy, tight, and even painful. Although this may be irritating, it is rarely harmful.
Simple foot soaks, moisturizers, and regular exfoliation can reduce dry skin on the feet, remove areas of dead skin and calluses, and prevent them from returning.
In this article, we look at the causes and treatment of dry, cracked, or scaly skin on the feet.
Regularly applying moisturizer to the feet can help prevent dry skin.
The following everyday factors may cause dry skin on the feet:
- A lack of moisture. Dry, cracked, and flaking skin is especially common on the heel and sole because these areas have fewer oil glands than skin elsewhere on the body.
- Irritation. Standing for too long or wearing poorly fitting shoes can put constant pressure on specific areas of the feet or cause friction of the skin. As a result, these areas of the feet may become dry, calloused, or cracked.
- Heat and humidity. Closed shoes, such as sneakers and boots, create an extremely hot and humid environment for the feet. Heat and humidity draw moisture from the skin, which can lead to dry, thick, or cracked areas on the feet.
- Soaps. Soaps and body washes that contain harsh chemicals or irritants can strip moisture from the skin. Failing to wash excess soap off the feet can also cause these problems.
- Aging. Over time, the skin loses its ability to retain water, becoming thinner and less plump. Older people may be more likely to experience dry skin as a result of the natural aging process.
- Medications. Certain medications, including diuretics, can cause dry skin on the feet.
Dry skin on the feet may also occur as a result of a medical condition, such as:
- Athlete's foot. Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that causes a scaly rash between the toes and underneath the foot.
- Eczema. Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation. People can develop eczema anywhere on their bodies. Common symptoms of eczema include dry, crusty, or itchy patches of skin.
- Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes thick, scaly patches of skin. People can develop psoriatic patches almost anywhere on their body, including their feet.
- Hypothyroidism. People with hypothyroidism may develop extremely dry feet because their thyroid gland cannot regulate the sweat glands in the feet, which can lead them to become dry.
- Diabetes. Living with uncontrolled diabetes may result in damage to the peripheral nerves, which is called neuropathy. Neuropathy can affect the nerves that regulate oil and moisture in the feet, which can cause the feet to become dry or cracked.
Treatments and remedies
Dead cells on the surface of the skin naturally fall off, and new cells take their place. When a person does not remove the buildup of dead skin cells, they can form thick, flaky patches on the feet.
Over time, dry areas can become thick or cracked, especially on the heels. Cracked heels make the feet vulnerable to infection, while thick calluses can make walking difficult or uncomfortable.
In the following section, we discuss five of the best ways to treat dry skin and remove dead skin from the feet.
Exfoliation involves removing dead surface-layer skin using either a physical or chemical exfoliator.
Physical exfoliators include:
- foot scrubs
- body brushes
- electronic callus removers
People can buy foot scrubs or make their own at home by mixing honey, warm water, and sugar.
Chemical exfoliators take the form of lotions or thin liquids. They contain ingredients that dissolve dead cells on the surface of the skin, such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and alpha-hydroxy acid.
Foot peels are popular chemical exfoliators that manufacturers have designed specifically for the feet. Some foot peels contain artificial fragrances and alcohols that can irritate sensitive skin, so it is important to check the list of ingredients for any potential allergens or irritants before buying a foot peel.
For a gentler foot peel, people can use chemical exfoliators that the label describes as being suitable for facial use.
People can choose between brands of exfoliating product online:
2. Foot soak
A person can add different ingredients, such as oatmeal or Epsom salt, to a foot soak.
Soaking the feet in warm water helps soothe and loosen dry skin while improving blood circulation to the feet, which can help prevent dry skin in the future.
Adding a small amount of vinegar to a foot soak may help treat mild forms of athlete's foot. Vinegar has powerful antimicrobial properties that may help disinfect the feet and even eliminate foot odor.
Other beneficial ingredients to consider adding to a foot soak include:
- Epsom salt
- lemon juice
- peppermint essential oil
3. Pumice stone or foot file
People can use a pumice stone or metal foot file to remove dry skin and calluses from the feet.
They can do this by following the steps below:
- Soak the feet in warm water to soften the dead skin.
- Wet the pumice stone or foot file with warm water.
- Gently rub the pumice stone or foot file over the dead skin or callus. Use circular motions with a pumice stone and gentle back-and-forth motions with a foot file.
- Rinse the dead skin off the feet. Repeat step three as necessary.
- Pat the feet dry with a clean towel.
- Moisturize the feet with cream, lotion, or oil.
People can buy pumice stones in drug stores or choose between brands online.
Regularly moisturizing the feet will help reduce existing dry skin and prevent new dry skin from accumulating. Moisturizing the feet after using an exfoliator or a pumice stone will help the skin lock in moisture.
It is best to avoid lotions, creams, and moisturizers that contain alcohol, added fragrances, and artificial colors as these ingredients can worsen dry skin.
Instead, a person should look for products that contain:
- humectants, such as urea, aloe, and hyaluronic acid
- emollients, which include plant-based butter and oil
- occlusives, such as petrolatum, lanolin, and coconut oil
5. Wear moisturizing socks to bed
For extra hydration, a person can try using moisturizing gel-lined socks. These are available to purchase online, or people can create their own.
Gel-lined socks contain natural oils and vitamins that help hydrate and repair dry skin on the feet. The individual just needs to slip on a pair and wear them around the house for a few hours. Afterward, they can place the socks in the washing machine and let them air-dry.
People can get similar results using their usual moisturizer and a good pair of cotton socks. At bedtime, they can apply a generous amount of moisturizer to the feet before slipping on a pair of breathable, cotton socks. In the morning, they should remove the socks and rinse the feet.
Wearing shoes that fit properly can support healthy feet.
People can use the following tips to help prevent dry skin on their feet:
- practicing proper foot hygiene, which includes thoroughly cleaning the feet, removing dead skin, and keeping the skin hydrated with a good moisturizer
- avoiding lotions, soaps, and body washes that contain alcohol, added fragrances and colors, and other potential irritants
- using warm, rather than hot, water for showers, baths, and foot soaks
- wearing shoes that fit correctly
- instead of vigorously rubbing the feet after a shower, gently patting them dry with a clean towel
Wearing the wrong shoes or spending too much time standing can result in dry, itchy feet and areas of irritated or scaly skin. Without treatment, dry skin can thicken and crack open, leaving the feet vulnerable to infection.
People can use pumice stones, exfoliators, and foot soaks to remove dry skin from their feet at home. Regularly applying moisturizer and removing dead skin will help keep the feet healthy and hydrated.
Certain medical conditions, such as eczema, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, can cause very dry skin on the feet.
People who have severely dry skin on their feet might want to consider contacting a specialist foot doctor called a podiatrist or another healthcare professional to discuss possible treatment options.