Peeling feet have several potential causes. Foot injuries, dry skin, and athlete’s foot, among other conditions, can all cause peeling skin on the feet.
Peeling feet may look dry and scaly. The skin may peel all over or only in certain areas. Sometimes, peeling is the only symptom, but the feet may also itch or develop yellow patches.
Dry or peeling skin on the feet is not usually a symptom of a severe condition. However, if a person has other symptoms, develops foot wounds, or experiences intense foot pain, a doctor may need to examine peeling feet to rule out a health condition.
This article will examine the causes of peeling feet. It will also look at some potential treatments and when a person should contact a doctor.
There are several causes of peeling feet, including:
Corns and calluses
Corns and calluses both cause dead skin to build up. This can lead to hard, scratchy growths on the feet that sometimes crack open or peel. Peeling them down to the surface of the skin may cause bleeding or pain.
Calluses tend to appear on the bottom of the feet and feel hard. They are usually not painful but can be tender to touch. Corns cause dead skin to grow around inflamed skin, which may hurt. They look waxy and often appear on the toes.
Doctors sometimes call corns “clavi” or “helomas.”
Corns and calluses are not dangerous, but they can be uncomfortable. People should not attempt to cut them off or remove them, as this may cause painful injuries and infections.
Dry skin, especially in the winter months and in dry climates, may cause the feet to become so dry that they peel or crack open and bleed.
A person may also have other symptoms on their feet, such as:
- white or dry patches
Dry skin is not dangerous. However, if it is severe enough to cause the skin of the feet to crack open, there may be a higher risk of infection.
The skin may look or feel dry, but eczema is not just dry skin. It can also cause painful flushed or white patches and even blisters.
Atopic dermatitis, which is the most common form of eczema, occurs when the immune system damages the skin’s moisture barrier, causing it to become dry. This may cause peeling feet. A person may also have eczema patches on other parts of the body.
Dyshidrotic eczema primarily affects the hands and feet, and it can cause tiny flushed blisters on the toes. These blisters may be itchy and peel or break open. Some people mistake this type of eczema for other kinds of blisters, as they look similar.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack healthy tissue. This causes skin cells to turn over much faster than usual. It can occur anywhere on the body but typically affects the elbows, knees, and bottoms of the feet.
People with psoriasis may notice flushed, thickened patches that look gray or silvery on their feet. The skin may peel, itch, or turn yellow over time.
Although dry skin does not cause psoriasis, moisturizing the skin may help psoriasis heal more quickly.
Athlete’s foot is a highly contagious fungal infection that may cause yellow or white patches on the feet, toes, or areas under the nails.
The feet may itch or look dry, and the skin may sometimes peel. A person may be more likely to experience athlete’s foot when their feet come into contact with contaminated surfaces, such as gym floors or showers.
Blisters usually appear when something rubs against the foot, causing small, fluid filled bumps to develop.
Blisters are typically harmless, but they can be painful. Wearing shoes that rub on the same areas of the feet may cause blisters to crack open and bleed.
People should not pop a blister, as it may become painful and bleed. Popping a blister may also increase the risk of infection.
Diabetes-related foot health issues
Diabetes can damage blood vessels, which may affect blood flow to the feet. The reduction in blood flow increases the risk of various foot issues, including dry skin that cracks open and bleeds.
People with diabetes and foot pain or dry skin that does not go away should contact a doctor.
A person with peeling skin on their feet should contact a doctor if they:
- have diabetes and develop foot pain or numbness
- experience symptoms that do not get better with home treatment
- have severe foot pain that interferes with walking
- develop any signs or symptoms of an infection, such as a fever
- get an object, such as glass or wood, stuck in their foot
- injure their foot by stepping on an object and have not recently had a tetanus shot
- think they may have psoriasis
Home treatments for peeling feet will depend on the cause. Some remedies to try include:
- moisturizing the feet, possibly alternating between a thick moisturizer and a hydrocortisone cream for better psoriasis or eczema relief
- applying over-the-counter antifungal cream to athlete’s foot
- covering a blister and keeping it clean and dry
- not wearing shoes that rub blisters
- keeping the feet clean and dry
- not walking barefoot on potentially contaminated surfaces
- applying callus remover to calluses and using a pumice stone to rub them gently, though this can take several weeks to remove calluses completely
- keeping a log of eczema and psoriasis symptoms, as well as possible triggers
Peeling feet may be uncomfortable. There are several potential causes, and the best treatment or home care option will depend on the cause.
Dry skin may rub on shoes and crack open, causing intense pain and making walking difficult. Usually, a person can treat dry skin at home with moisturizers. If it becomes severe, however, they should consider seeking advice from a doctor.
A doctor may prescribe medications to manage chronic conditions, such as psoriasis, which may improve peeling feet.