Overview

It’s not unusual for the skin between your toes to occasionally peel, especially if you’ve been wearing tight shoes that make your toes rub together. However, peeling skin between your toes can also be a sign of an underlying skin condition.

Read on to learn about these possible skin conditions and their treatments.

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a type of fungal infection of the skin. It often starts around your toes before spreading to other parts of your foot.

At first, athlete’s foot might look like a red, scaly rash. As it progresses, your skin usually starts peeling and feels itchy. You can have athlete’s foot in one or both feet.

Athlete’s foot is very contagious, especially in damp common areas such as spas, saunas, and locker rooms. Walking barefoot in these areas can increase your risk of developing athlete’s foot.

Other risk factors include:

  • having diabetes
  • sharing clothes and shoes
  • wearing tight-fitting shoes
  • not changing socks regularly

Most cases of athlete’s foot are easily treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams and powders, as well as making sure you keep your feet clean and dry. However, if the infection comes back, you may need a prescription antifungal medication.

If you have diabetes and notice athlete’s foot symptoms, contact your doctor. People with diabetes are more prone to complications related to athlete’s foot, such as ulcers and skin damage. Learn more about caring for your feet if you have diabetes.

Shoe contact dermatitis

Shoe contact dermatitis is a type of irritation that develops when your skin reacts to certain materials in your shoes.

Common materials that can cause this include:

  • formaldehyde
  • certain glues
  • leather
  • nickel
  • paraphenylenediamine, a type of dye
  • rubber

Early signs of shoe contact dermatitis usually start on your big toe before spreading to the rest of your feet. Other symptoms include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • itchiness
  • cracked skin
  • blisters

The symptoms usually get worse over time, especially if you keep wearing the shoes that caused it.

To treat shoe contact dermatitis, try an OTC cream made with hydrocortisone. This can also help with the itchiness.

If your symptoms don’t go away within a week, contact your doctor. If you’re not sure which material caused the reaction, your doctor may also be able to do allergy testing to get to the bottom of it.

Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema is a type of eczema that affects your hands and feet, including the skin between your toes. Unlike a typical eczema rash, this condition causes blisters that are extremely itchy. The blisters may arise from contact with metals, stress, or seasonal allergies.

The blisters usually go away on their own within a few weeks. As they heal, the blisters dry out and peel off the feet. In the meantime, try applying a cooling lotion or a cold compress to help with the itchiness. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that speeds up your body’s natural skin cell cycle. This results in thick patches of cells that accumulate on the surface of your skin. As these patches thicken, they may look red, silver, or scaly.

The patches might be sore or itchy. They may even bleed. You might also notice peeling. This is caused by dead skin cells flaking off. It doesn’t affect your actual skin. You might also notice that your toenails feel thicker.

There’s no cure for psoriasis, so treatment usually focuses on managing flare-ups to reduce your symptoms. Topical corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation. Salicylic acid can help reduce the amount of dead skin cells. Keeping your skin clean and moisturized can also help.

While it’s easier said than done, avoid scratching the skin patches if you can. This will reduce your risk of getting an infection.

Trench foot

Most people are familiar with the phenomenon of wrinkly feet after a long soak. However, when your feet are wet for too long, it can cause a serious condition called trench foot, also known as immersion foot. This usually happens when you wear wet socks for an extended period of time.

Symptoms may include:

  • blotchy, pale-colored skin
  • itchiness
  • pain
  • redness
  • tingling sensation

If left untreated, the skin on your feet starts to die and peel off.

Most cases of trench foot are easily resolved by drying off your feet and elevating them to improve circulation. If you work outside or frequently find yourself standing or walking in wet conditions, consider carrying an extra pair of socks and a towel. Investing in a pair of waterproof shoes can help, too.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that occurs on the skin. It’s most common in your legs and can spread quickly to your feet. It’s sometimes caused by untreated athlete’s foot.

Early symptoms include red, painful blisters that may peel as they pop or heal. You might also have a fever.

If you think you have cellulitis, seek immediate medical treatment. The bacteria can enter your bloodstream, which may cause serious complications.

To treat cellulitis, you’ll need antibiotics from your doctor. If you have wounds on your feet, including those caused by psoriasis or athlete’s foot, make sure you regularly clean and protect your feet.

The bottom line

It’s normal for your toes to occasionally rub against each other, causing your skin to peel. However, if your toes become itchy, painful, swollen, or scaly, it’s a sign of an underlying problem. Most causes are easily treatable with either OTC or prescription medication.