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What Causes Peeling Feet?

Lainie Petersen
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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Peeling feet can be caused by a number of things, some of them serious. In many cases, peeling feet are primarily the result of exposure to environmental stressors such as dry air and the sun. Dry, cracked, and peeling skin may also be caused by a skin infection, such as athlete's foot, or it may be a symptom of a more serious problem. Individuals with diabetes should be particularly conscious of the condition of their feet, as dry, peeling skin can be a sign of a more serious circulatory problem. Patches of dry skin on the feet that do not go away should also be examined by a doctor, as they may be signs of skin cancer.

For many people, this is largely a cosmetic problem that may be easily dealt with by regularly exfoliating and moisturizing the feet along wit the regular application of sunscreen. Many individuals experience significant problems with peeling and cracking heels during the summer months, as this is when people go about barefoot or wearing sandals. The exposure of the skin to the air can result in the accumulation of dry, dead skin. In addition, sun exposure can cause sunburn on the feet, which may result in peeling skin. There are numerous over-the-counter treatments for peeling feet available, although diabetics should be cautious about using any treatment until they have received approval from their physician.

If an individual experiences peeling feet along with itchiness and burning, he may have developed athlete's foot, a relatively common fungal infection. In such cases, the individual may experience peeling more between his toes and on the soles of his feet. It is possible to treat athlete's foot with over-the-counter creams and sprays. If the condition is severe, however, the sufferer may need medical attention and may need to use prescription-strength treatments or even oral medications. As athlete's foot is contagious, it can be particularly important for individuals who share living or bathing space with others to have their condition diagnosed and treated.

Many skin conditions present themselves as dry, peeling skin. When in doubt, sufferers should speak to their doctor about their concerns. Although the condition may not be serious, a doctor can run tests to ensure that a patient's peeling feet are not the result of uncontrolled diabetes, squamous cell skin cancer, or other skin infections or irritations that might get worse if not treated.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.
Discussion Comments
By anon993186 — On Oct 27, 2015

About two years ago, my feet began to peel. I thought I must have a little fungus. I preceded to treat my feet with Athletes' foot medication. Well here I am now and I have more peeling on my feet than ever. I've been thinking that I have diabetes but I have been told that I don't. Although I have other symptoms also that are signs of the disease. I have asked at least a couple of doctors in the past and present. They offered me no opinion and only one suggested I see a foot doctor and they were not concerned about the situation at all, with their "I don't know" and I do quote. I need help!

By clintflint — On Jul 04, 2014

@croydon - If it happens regularly it might be a fungus infection or some other kind of problem. I would go and get checked out by a dermatologist just in case. Feet heal pretty quickly because they are designed to do so, but a chronic condition will just keep happening until you get rid of the cause.

By croydon — On Jul 03, 2014

@pleonasm - If it wasn't actually irritating her feet while she was wearing them, it might have been something she could prevent by using extra moisturizer or even Vaseline. I get dry, cracked feet sometimes and the only thing that seems to help is smearing them with Vaseline and leaving it on (with socks) overnight.

But that helps a lot and they stop hurting almost straight away.

I also find that if I take the time to moisturize them regularly, then the problem doesn't happen nearly as often. I think we just forget about treating our feet well because we take them for granted.

By pleonasm — On Jul 02, 2014

The type of shoes you wear could be contributing to peeling skin on your feet. My mother used to wear cork soled shoes in the summer until she realized that they were drying out her feet. It can be tough to put two and two together sometimes because the damage might not show up right away and you probably don't wear the same pair of shoes often enough to chart the effects.

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
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