We're hard on our feet, doing everything from stuffing them in stilettos to exposing them to the elements to running miles and miles on them. No wonder dry skin on the feet is a common complaint!
Not only is dry skin on your feet unattractive and embarrassing, it can also be itchy, painful, and burning, too, especially in the case of conditions like athlete's foot.
What Causes Dry Skin?
There are a number of reasons for dry skin on the feet and toes. Just like anywhere else on the body, xerosis (dry skin) occurs when an environmental factor, like lack of humidity, medications, or harsh ingredients in your soap, strips away the fatty coating that protects skin from the elements. Red, itchy patches can pop up as telltale symptoms of dry skin.
But if moisturizing doesn't help the problem, you may be suffering from a bigger issue. Medical conditions such as diabetes, psoriasis, thyroid disease, eczema and athlete's foot can also cause dry, cracked skin on your feet, among other symptoms.
The majority of the time patients think their problem is dry skin, it's actually athlete's foot, says Sima Soltani, DPM, in Irvine, Calif., in an article on a website. There are three different types of it, and it can look like a red, scaly infection on the sole and side of the foot or blisters on the bottom of the foot, says Miguel Sanchez, MD, associate professor, NYU Department of Dermatology, Director of Dermatology, Bellevue Hospital Center.
Fungal and bacterial foot problems like athlete's foot occur because our feet spend most of the day stuffed into shoes—warm, dark, sweaty places are the perfect conditions for fungus to thrive. These conditions can cause dry skin on your feet, and possibly redness, blisters, itching, and peeling..
The most common form of athlete's foot is itchy skin in between toes called toe-web infection. The moccasin-type infection can be red and scaly and affects the plantar area of the sole and sides. The third type is a vesicular-type infection that causes blisters on the undersides of the foot. Which type of athlete's foot you get depends on how you got the infection and how the fungus is affecting you. Also, remember that when your feet are wet, you're more susceptible to toenail fungus, which left untreated can spread across toes.
To prevent infections from happening in the first place, or reoccurring, change your shoes, socks, and stockings often to help keep your feet dry. Dry your feet and in between your toes thoroughly after your shower or bath, and consider adding powder to your feet to help absorb moisture before pulling your socks on in the morning. If you experience any foot condition that doesn't improve in two weeks, contact your doctor.
It's always a good idea to wear shower shoes in your gym's locker room and especially on the pool deck—wet surfaces are breeding grounds for fungi.
Adding more healthy fats to your diet can also help. Increasing your intake of essential fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in your meals may help dry skin by decreasing the amount of water lost via the skin's surface. Good sources of ALA include canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.
How to Treat Dry Skin on Feet
To treat conditions like athlete's food, try prescription meds like Lotrimin or Lamisil. OTC creams work in about 50 percent of the cases. You can try to treat athlete's foot yourself, but if you notice cracks in the skin, a symptom of a more advanced infection, you should visit your doctor to get prescription-strength medicine.
If you think you have athlete's foot and want to try to treat it yourself with drugstore products, consistent daily use of the treatment even after symptoms disappear is the best way to improve your success rate of getting rid of the fungal problem. Failure to see improvement is usually the result of medicine applied infrequently— you need to apply it at least twice to three times a day—or treatment stopped too soon. Even if your problem seems to disappear after two weeks, keep using the OTC creams for another four weeks.
If you suffer from dry, rough heels and athlete's food is not to blame, use a lactic-acid based cream and mix it with petroleum jelly; then rub the mixture on your feet at night and cover with socks, suggests Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor, Yale School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology. She says if you do this every night, your heels will be soft within a month. She also suggests using pumice stones after bathing or soaking your feet for treating dry skin. They're both helpful in conjunction with the lactic acid/petroleum jelly combo. They all work better together than alone, she says.
Another remedy to try on your feet is lanolin for chapped, dry skin. It can be found over-the-counter and is usually labeled as a product for breastfeeding mothers.
For severely dry, rough feet and cracked heels, you may want to ask your podiatrist about Kerasal ointment, which has been approved by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Many dermatologists recommend Kerasal, declaring it both easy-to-use and cost-effective. Not only does it decrease calluses but it also minimizes cracking skin from dry feet.
When you notice that your skin is dry on the tops of your feet and legs, try a loofah sponge or use an exfoliating skin product. And be sure to add lotion to those dry skin areas.