7 Common Foot Skin Problems

Many different skin problems affect your feet, some more common than others. The usual cause of rash or skin lesions on the feet is an infection, whether it's fungal, bacterial, or viral. Simple irritation or allergic reactions are also a fairly common cause of the rash. Sometimes these skin conditions have similar characteristics, which makes them tricky to identify or to treat with over-the-counter products. It's best to seek medical attention for the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.


Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot
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Athlete's foot, also called tinea pedis, is an infection that is caused by a fungus that eats old skin cells.


Athlete's foot is an itchy and red rash that usually affects the soles of the feet and between the toes. Chronic athlete's foot causes a scaly rash that can be mistaken for dry skin, whereas acute athlete's foot can cause a painful, red, and blistering rash.


As the name implies, athlete's foot is common among athletes because the fungus is often found in warm, damp areas around pools and in public showers and is often passed from foot-to-foot in locker rooms.

Other factors that increase your risk for athlete's foot include:

  • Sweating a lot
  • Keeping your feet wet for long periods or not changing out of sweaty socks
  • Wearing plastic-lined closed-toed shoes
  • Minor skin or nail injuries


Athlete's foot is an uncomfortable condition, but luckily it's one you can prevent. Some ways to avoid it include:

  • Wearing shower shoes or sandals around public pools and in public showers, locker rooms, and hotel rooms
  • Washing your feet daily with soap
  • Completely dry your feet after washing them
  • Wearing socks made of natural fibers or moisture-wicking material
  • Avoiding wearing sweaty or wet shoes
  • Not sharing towels or shoes with someone who has athlete's foot
  • Wearing sandals in your home shower if you live with someone with athlete's foot
  • Keeping your nails clipped short and kept clean


If you do suspect you have athlete's foot, seek treatment sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the worse and more itchy the rash will become.

Mild forms of athlete's foot can usually be treated with anti-fungal powder or cream. However, if the infection doesn't clear up, your doctor may prescribe a stronger, oral anti-fungal medication.


Plantar Warts

Foot wart

Catherine Moyer, DPM

Plantar warts, or verruca plantaris, can be small, singular lesions or large ones that cluster together. They are generally circular and occur on the soles or sides of the feet. Plantar warts are caused by a virus and can be difficult to eradicate.


Plantar warts symptoms include thickened and tough skin, which can cause them to be mistaken for corns or calluses. There are also often very small dots on the surface of a wart and it may be painful to walk on.


Plantar warts are caused by coming in contact with the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is the virus that also causes warts on other parts of the body. It is the most common viral infection of the skin.

Plantar warts are easy to spread and are commonly caused by coming in contact with a surface where someone with a plantar wart has stepped, such as the deck of a public pool, a locker room floor, or a public shower. You can also spread the virus to other parts of your body by touching a plantar wart and then touching skin on another area of your body.


As with athlete's foot, there are ways to prevent plantar warts. And if you already have one, you can use precaution to avoid another one. Prevention methods include:

  • Avoiding touching a wart on yourself or someone else
  • Washing your hands thoroughly after touching a wart on yourself or someone else
  • Keeping your feet clean and dry
  • Wearing shower shoes or sandals around public pools and in public showers, locker rooms, and hotel rooms
  • Avoiding picking or scratching warts


While plantar warts may clear up on their own, it is usually desirable to have them removed right away. Treatments to remove plantar warts include:

  • Topical medication
  • Oral medication
  • Laser therapy
  • Cryotherapy (freezing)
  • Acid treatments
  • Surgery

Your regular doctor, a podiatrist, or a foot surgeon will be able to suggest the right treatment based on the severity of your wart.


Bacterial Infections

Ingrown toenail treatment

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Bacterial infections of the feet have a variety of presentations. The skin surrounding the toenails are among the most common areas for bacterial infections. An ingrown toenail often leads to a bacterial infection, especially if left untreated. Sometimes bacterial infections are mistaken for athlete's foot because they may have a similar red or painful rash. Certain bacterial infections can spread quickly and require immediate care, especially when associated with a wound.



Fungus Toenail
Picomedia/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

A toenail fungal infection, or onychomycosis, is a common problem. The classic signs of onychomycosis are nail thickening, discoloration, and changes to the nail's texture—such as flakiness or debris. The infection is likely to extend through the entire nail and affect the skin below, which is why onychomycosis can be difficult to clear up. Onychomycosis isn't just a cosmetic concern—it often causes pain arising from excess shoe pressure and in some cases creates susceptibility to bacterial infection.




MION/PHANIE/Getty Images

Eczema presents with symptoms similar to athlete's foot. Eczema can appear as small, circular areas of thick, scaly skin or as larger, less distinct lesions. Eczema can be caused by sensitivity to something the skin has come in contact with, such as a chemical, or it can be a reaction to overly moist or dry skin. A common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, a skin condition that is often experienced in conjunction with allergies or sensitivities.



A close up shot of a hikers blistered heel.

Rob Hammer/Getty Images

The most obvious cause of blisters is excess friction from shoes, especially from long-distance walking or running. However, blisters on the feet can be a symptom of other conditions as well, such as diabetes, poison ivy, athlete's foot, allergic contact dermatitis, and dyshidrotic eczema. In young children, hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is caused by a coxsackievirus, can be a cause of blisters on the soles of the feet.


Corns and Calluses

Dry rough foot (XXXL)

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Corns and calluses are thickened areas of the skin's uppermost layer or stratum corneum. They develop in response to areas of excess pressure against the skin, such as on the toes, under the ball of the foot or heel areas. Sometimes corns can entrap tiny blood vessels or nerves, which makes them either painful or bleed easily when shaved down. Where a corn or callus develops on your feet often points to what type of foot problem you have.

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