Your feet may peel due to a skin condition, such as eczema, or fungal infection. Sometimes peeling feet may be a sign of an underlying condition.
There are many potential causes of peeling feet. And while the peeling may be annoying and could make you feel self-conscious, especially if you’re wearing sandals or flip-flops, it’s usually treatable.
Here’s a look at some of the most common causes of peeling feet, the most effective treatment options, and other symptoms to look out for.
The skin on your feet probably takes more strain than you realize. From the irritation of tight or stuffy shoes to direct contact with contaminated surfaces to overexposure to the elements, there are many reasons why the skin on your feet may start to peel.
Below, we focus on the most common causes of peeling feet and what you can do to treat these conditions.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that primarily affects the feet. It usually starts between your toes, and can affect both feet or just one.
The main symptoms of athlete’s foot include:
- a red, scaly, itchy rash
- dryness and scaliness
You can get athlete’s foot by coming into contact with the fungus that causes it. You can get it through direct contact with someone who has athlete’s foot, or by touching surfaces that are contaminated with the fungus.
Because the fungus thrives in moist, warm places, it’s often found on floors in locker rooms, showers, and around swimming pools.
Athlete’s foot is contagious. The fungus can easily be picked up from the floor if you’re walking with bare feet. You can also get it from shared socks or towels.
It can also develop on your feet if they get too warm or sweaty. This is more likely to happen if your shoes aren’t well ventilated or your socks don’t absorb moisture well.
If you think you have athlete’s foot, you can try an over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medication. If that doesn’t work, see your doctor. They can prescribe an antifungal medication that’s more powerful.
You can help prevent athlete’s foot by:
- keeping your feet dry
- changing your socks regularly
- wearing shoes or flip-flops in public places, such as locker rooms and pools
- not wearing the same pair of shoes every day
- wearing shoes that provide ventilation
- not sharing shoes, socks, or towels with others
- using talcum powder on your feet if they get sweaty
Dry skin is usually rough, scaly, and itchy. It’s also easily irritated, which can lead to peeling.
In some cases, dry skin may have an underlying medical cause, but some people just have naturally dry skin. Whether or not you have an underlying condition, dry skin on your feet can be caused or made worse by:
- low humidity
- hot showers or baths
- too much sun exposure
Treatment options for dry, peeling skin on your feet includes:
- frequently using a moisturizer, especially right after bathing, when your skin is damp; look for moisturizers that are free of fragrance and dyes
- applying an OTC hydrocortisone cream to the affected skin
- increasing the moisture in the air with a humidifier
- using mild soaps that won’t irritate your skin
- bathing in water that’s lukewarm, not hot
Eczema is a type of skin condition. There are several types, but atopic dermatitis is the most common.
Eczema can occur anywhere on your body. Although it’s more common on the arms, elbows, back of the knees, and scalp, it can also develop on your feet.
The main symptoms of eczema typically include:
- a red, itchy rash, which is the most common symptom
- dry, itchy skin
- cracked skin
- skin infections
Eczema may go through periods of flare-ups, where the symptoms get worse for a period of time, but then get better in between flare-ups. It’s not contagious, and it may, in some cases, become less severe with age.
The cause of eczema is unknown. It’s most likely a mix of genetics and other factors. People with allergies and asthma are more likely to have eczema.
Treatment for eczema includes:
- antihistamine medications
- topical medications, which may include steroid creams
- phototherapy (light therapy)
- drugs that target the immune system
- oral steroids, but only in severe cases
Psoriasis is a chronic disease that causes raised, red patches with silvery scales. These patches may hurt or itch, but there are usually no other physical symptoms. They can happen anywhere on your body. The soles of the feet are commonly affected.
The patches caused by psoriasis are an overgrowth of skin cells. The cause is unknown, but psoriasis is most likely an immune condition. Genetics likely plays a role as well.
The patches usually come and go, but psoriasis is a lifelong condition. Flare-ups are more common:
- in the winter
- after an infection, such as strep throat
- when you’re stressed
- after drinking alcohol
- when your skin is irritated
Treatment for psoriasis typically includes:
- topical corticosteroids to reduce the scaly patches
- salicylic acid
- phototherapy, especially if large areas of the skin are affected
- immunosuppressants or biologics, if the condition is severe or other treatments don’t work
Hyperhidrosis is a condition that causes excessive sweating. It may affect your entire body or just one area. The soles of your feet are commonly affected.
If your feet are often sweaty, it may cause irritation, redness, and peeling of the skin.
Treatment for hyperhidrosis on the feet includes:
- prescription-strength aluminum chloride solution, which acts as a strong antiperspirant that can be applied to sweaty areas
- towelettes with glycopyrronium, which help stop sweating
- anticholinergic oral drugs, which block certain neurotransmitters and can help reduce sweating
Most of the common causes of foot peeling aren’t serious conditions, and the peeling can be treated. It may even clear up on its own. But you should see a doctor if you have:
- a rash or peeling that doesn’t improve with OTC or other self-care measures
- diabetes and peeling skin on your foot, especially if you have itching or signs of an infection
- swelling of your feet
- a foot odor that won’t go away
- severe peeling, especially without a known cause
- signs of dehydration, such as increased thirst, dry mouth, confusion, and dizziness
- a blister with significant redness and oozing
There are many reasons why your feet can peel. Some of the most common causes include athlete’s foot, dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, and hyperhidrosis.
In most cases, using OTC medications can help treat the peeling on your feet. However, if the peeling doesn’t improve, or you have other concerning symptoms, be sure to see your doctor.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose the cause and prescribe the right kind of treatment for your feet.