Do you have dry, cracked skin on your feet? If so, you are not alone, as this is a common foot problem.1 Dry skin, also known as xerosis, can simply be a cosmetic problem. Or, it may lead to symptoms such as itchiness, a skin rash, or even pain and secondary infection.
Sometimes dry skin occurs on multiple areas of the body, secondary to an underlying health issue. But other times only the feet are affected, resulting in cracked skin or calluses on the heels or soles of the feet.
Your foot problems may come from a variety of causes and risk factors.
Your dry, cracked feet may be due to environmental factors:
Physical stress: The environment inside a shoe can get very hot—sometimes well over 120 F. Heat and humidity changes result in water loss from the skin and ultimately result in thickening of the top layer of skin.2
Skin cleansers: Certain soaps can strip protective oils from the skin or leave irritating residues that contribute to dry skin.
Cold weather: Dry skin often worsens in the winter months, mostly due to indoor heating and low humidity.
Skin conditions that result in dry, thickened skin on the foot include:
Athlete's foot (tinea pedis)
Skin rashes caused by allergy or irritants
Leg vein problems (called venous stasis)
In children, atopic dermatitis (eczema) is common cause of dry, scaly skin and accentuated skin lines on a child's feet.3
Systemic Medical Conditions
Diabetes, hypothyroidism, and malnutrition are a few common conditions that may cause dry skin.4
Dietary deficiency of vitamin A or certain essential fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), can also be an underlying cause. Conditions that cause digestive malabsorption, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, may lead to vitamin and essential fatty acid deficiencies.
Hormonal and metabolic changes over time decrease skin cell turnover, resulting in a thickening of the skin's outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum.5 Also, as we age, the protective fat pad on the sole of the foot gets thinner. Loss of this cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot can increase skin stress, leading to cracked, callused skin.
How Aging Affects Your Feet
If your feet have calluses, cracked skin, wounds, rashes, or dry skin that does not improve with creams or lotions, an evaluation by a podiatrist is a good place to start.
A podiatrist can identify and treat secondary causes of dry skin, such as athlete's foot or eczema.
In addition, corns and calluses can be safely removed by your podiatrist, which is a great way to improve the appearance of your feet and prevent future problems, such as pain and skin wounds. Also, severely dry skin may require prescription-strength creams.
To soothe and prevent dry, cracked skin on your feet, consider using these:
Foot cream: Use a daily foot cream, preferably one that contains alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or urea.6 Alpha-hydroxy acids help slough off dead skin cells and increase moisture retention in the skin's epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). Examples of alpha-hydroxy acids include glycolic acid and lactic acid.
Lanolin: For rough or cracked areas of skin, try applying lanolin, which acts as an effective moisture barrier. Lanolin can be found over-the-counter and is usually labeled as a product for breastfeeding mothers, although it can be used for any form of dry, chapped skin.
Hypoallergenic products: If you are prone to allergies or skin sensitivities, use skin products that are labeled as hypoallergenic or formulated for sensitive skin.
File or pumice stone: For rough areas on the soles of the feet, use a foot file or pumice stone after bathing or soaking your feet. This routine is very effective at keeping calluses from building up on the soles. For dry skin on the tops of the feet and on the legs, try a loofah sponge or exfoliating skin product.