Feet First: Here's How to Treat Dry Skin on Your Feet
Having dry skin on the feet is a very common concern that affects thousands of people around the world — and with good reason. Did you know that an average pair of feet walk around 100,000 miles in a lifetime? And although each foot has around 125,000 sweat glands, it has very few oil glands. So, it’s no wonder that foot skin is more prone to dryness. This is why you need to care for your feet all year round, come rain or shine, socks or sandals-weather.
Below, we share a comprehensive guide to the causes of dry skin on the feet; how to relieve itchy, dry feet skin instantly; and how to prevent flaky skin in the long term.
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There are a wide variety of factors that cause the skin to become extremely dry.
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Some of the most common causes of dry skin on the feet include:
During the winter months, when the air becomes drier, you may notice that your skin, notably the skin on your feet, becomes drier too. But the hotter months aren't any better. Your favorite flip-flops and sandals may appear to allow your feet to breathe, but they also expose them to the elements. And the sun is known to cause dryness, especially if your skin barrier is already compromised.
Another factor to consider? The environment inside your shoe. Shoes that are made of non-breathable materials can trap heat and humidity inside, causing feet to sweat. According to experts, sweaty feet can cause the skin to dry out more quickly.
Similarly, shoes that are too tight or poorly fitted may rub against your feet as you walk. And friction produces heat, that ultimately results in sweating. Additionally, open-backed shoes (particularly flip flops) are notorious for causing the heels to get dry and cracked.
Some medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease and kidney disease can cause dry skin. Also, treatment procedures for certain illnesses (like dialysis treatments or radiation treatments) have a similar effect. Some types of medications, like statins and diuretics, can cause the skin to dry up, too.
As we age, the epidermis (top layer of the skin) gets thinner and our skin gradually loses its ability to retain water. Our body also reduces its production of collagen and elastin (the protein that gives skin its plump appearance). This is why dry skin is a more common concern among older adults.
Here’s how to remove dry skin from feet and keep them smooth and supple all year round.
Exfoliate the dead skin away
Before reaching for your moisturizer, you may want to tackle the dead skin lurking on the surface first. If you don’t, not only will the skin feel rough to touch, but any topical products you apply will struggle to properly sink into the skin.
The solution? Exfoliate. There are two types of techniques that you can try: physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Physical scrubs tend to have particles that manually scrub off dead skin flakes as you (very gently) work them into the skin. Chemical scrubs include ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids that dissolve the glue that holds the dead cells together, helping them shed naturally.
Both types of scrubs will do a good job of exfoliating your feet. You could also create your own homemade scrub if you prefer. Simply mix 1 tablespoon of sea salt with 2 tablespoons of Vaseline® Healing Jelly Original. Then, massage the mixture into the skin in a circular motion, focusing on rough patches and calluses. Finally, rinse off with warm water, pat your feet dry, and apply a thin layer of Vaseline® Healing Jelly Original.
Remember to be gentle and never over-exfoliate. “Respect the barrier, and do not scrub off healthy skin cells,” warns board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara.
Try a pumice stone or foot file
Thick, hardened skin on the feet can be hard to exfoliate. That’s when the humble pumice stone comes in handy. Pumice stones typically have a naturally coarse texture that helps buff away dead skin cells on tough skin, helping soften the area over time. Again, remember to be gentle to avoid damaging the skin.
If you don’t want to do the manual work, you could also get your hands on an electric foot file. These portable (often chargeable) devices do all the buffing for you.
Now that the dead skin has been tackled, it’s time to flood your skin with moisture. Three types of moisturizing ingredients do the job: humectants, emollients and occlusives. Humectants draw in moisture from the environment and hold them in the skin's surface; occlusives coat the skin to form a barrier against transepidermal water loss; and emollients help retain water in the skin and enable the repair of damaged cells on the skin’s surface.
“For optimal moisturization, look for humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid; occlusives such as petroleum jelly or squalene; and emollients such as shea or cocoa butter,” says Dr. Gohara.
When choosing a moisturizer for your feet, remember that its consistency (lotion, cream or balm-like ointment) is usually a good indicator of how intense you can expect the formula to be. Choose lighter formulas during the summer and thicker ones during the winter or if your skin is very dry.
Try: Vaseline® Intensive Care™ Deep Moisture Jelly Cream has an ultra-moisturizing, hypoallergenic and fragrance-free formula, which makes it the ideal choice for very dry, sensitive skin. Along with locking in moisture, it also helps heal damaged, cracked skin.
Applying your moisturizer while your skin is still damp from bathing can really help lock moisture in. Dr. Gohara recommends waiting no longer than 5 minutes post-shower or bath before reaching for your foot cream. “This locks in the ambient humidity and the water from slightly damp skin,” she says. You could also moisturize your feet again before going to bed.
Treat your feet to a sleep mask
Your feet deserve just as much love as your face. So, slather them in your favorite moisturizer, put on some socks, and let the moisture sink in overnight. If you have particularly dry feet, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends substituting your moisturizer for some plain petroleum jelly instead.
If you opt for the latter, reach for the Vaseline® Healing Jelly Original. It works as an occlusive, creating a protective barrier to trap moisture and aid the skin’s natural healing process. Plus, it’s hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic and fragrance-free, making it a great pick for even the most sensitive skin types.
Here are a few extra tips on how to care for your feet and prevent them from getting dry:
- As we know, the sun’s rays can drink away your skin’s natural moisture. So, remember to always apply SPF on all exposed skin — including your feet.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit well.
- Avoid taking long showers and baths very often. Yes, we know how relaxing they can be. But they also dry out the skin, making flaky skin feel worse.
- If you have sensitive skin, ditch fragranced cleansers and moisturizers for fragrance-free alternatives. “Irritation or a true allergy can manifest as dry, itchy and inflamed skin,” says Dr. Gohara.
- When you’re blasting heat in your home during winter, it can take a toll on your skin. So, during the colder months, use a humidifier to combat the dryness in the air.
When to call a doctor
Dry feet and cracked heels can occasionally be signs of a more serious problem. If your skin doesn’t show signs of improvement despite your efforts, it may be best to consult a board-certified dermatologist for advice.
Remember that your feet need a solid skin-care routine just as much as your face does. Regular exfoliation and moisturization are key to keeping the skin smooth and flake-free. But if your feet continue to feel dry despite this, it may be worth giving the podiatrist a visit to get to the root of the problem.
What causes very dry skin on feet?
Everything from lack of moisturization, cold weather, dry weather, aging, improper footwear, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, or even certain medications, treatments and medical conditions could cause the feet to get extremely dry.
How do I get rid of dry skin on my feet?
There are various steps you can take to get rid of dry skin on the feet. Firstly, regularly exfoliate the skin on your feet to remove dead skin cells and keep the surface smooth. Secondly, reach for a pumice stone to tackle particularly dry skin that has toughened over time. And lastly, apply moisturizer as soon as you come out of the shower and before you go to bed to keep your feet supple and hydrated.
Can you ‘slug’ your feet?
Although ‘slugging’ — the beauty trend for dry skin — is usually used on the face, it can help soften up your feet, too. Here’s how:
1. Clean your skin, and gently exfoliate if you haven’t in the past week or so. This will remove dirt and dryness from your skin’s surface so it’s ready for slugging.
2. Pat your skin dry and apply moisturizer, allowing it a few minutes to absorb.
3. Now it’s time to slug! Apply Vaseline® Healing Jelly Original generously and pop on some comfy socks to let it soak in overnight. Your feet will be quite slippery, so make sure you don’t walk around barefoot straight after application.
These articles provide general tips and information about improving skin health. They have been written by health and beauty writers. They have not been written by health care professionals and, as such, don’t constitute medical advice. If you have a serious skin condition, please consult a medical professional.
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