Peeling Feet: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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Your entire outer layer of skin is replaced through shedding roughly every two to four weeks, but there are times when skin can peel quicker in certain areas.

Our feet carry us everywhere, are stuffed into shoes, and trek over many types of surfaces. It should come as no surprise that our feet are prone to strain and injury, but there are times when shedding and irritation may signal another problem.

Keep reading to learn why your feet peel and what might cause this problem to worsen.

Dry and peeling feet

Alina555 / Getty Images

Symptoms of Peeling Feet

If your feet are peeling, you may notice dry flecks of skin or larger sections peeling off at a time. While this may be the only symptom you have, it's possible to experience other things alongside peeling, like:

Causes of Peeling Feet

Regular skin turnover is one cause of peeling feet, but things like dryness or irritation can speed up this recurring event. Some other conditions and medications can also cause your feet to peel faster than usual.

Dryness

Dryness may be one of the most common explanations for peeling feet. Any part of your body can become dry, but the humidity from being trapped in shoes and the strain of your daily step count can make this problem more pronounced on your feet.

Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the feet. You can pick up this fungus in damp areas like showers or locker rooms. Athlete's foot is usually itchy and can cause redness, but it might also lead to scaly or cracked skin.

Eczema

Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can cause swelling and itching. Eczema is caused by an abnormal immune system response to an allergen or other trigger. Scratching skin affected by eczema can lead to increased redness, irritation, or even peeling.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease caused by a malfunction of your immune system. There are a few types of psoriasis, but dry, scaly patches of skin are a common feature of this condition. These patches build into plaques that can be itchy and shed easily.

Acral Peeling

Acral peeling is a painless skin disorder that causes peeling. This peeling is most noticeable on the hands and feet. Heat, humidity, moisture, and friction can worsen the peeling, but symptoms of this condition are usually limited to redness and peeling. Acral peeling isn't usually related to any other health problems.

Peeling Skin Syndrome

Peeling skin syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes the top layer of your skin to separate from those beneath it. While this peeling is usually painless, it's often continuous. When this condition comes with symptoms other than peeling, skin can become:

  • Itchy
  • Red
  • Frail
  • Blistered

This condition most often affects the hands and feet but can also develop on other parts of your body.

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis

Toxic epidermal necrolysis is a skin condition often caused by antibiotics and seizure medications. This condition can be life-threatening and causes large sections of your skin to peel off in sheets. As you shed large areas of skin, your body loses moisture and fluids that may lead to dangerous dehydration and infection.

Diabetes

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can lead to foot problems. While diabetes doesn't cause direct issues with the skin on your feet, many people with diabetes experience some degree of nerve damage in their feet. This nerve damage can make it difficult to notice common issues like minor injuries or irritation. These problems can lead to more serious infections and foot damage. People with diabetes can also suffer from reduced blood flow in the feet, which could worsen injuries and delay healing.

Medications

Many medications have side effects that can impact the skin. Some conditions, like toxic epidermal necrosis, are specifically caused by medications, while other drugs can more subtly affect the skin.

Some of the medications that are most often linked to dry or peeling skin include:

Some medications, like lactic and glycolic acids, can deliberately be used to peel the skin on your feet. These alpha-hydroxy acids are often used to exfoliate the skin as a cosmetic treatment.

How to Treat Peeling Feet

How you treat peeling feet depends on why they are peeling in the first place. However, overall good foot hygiene is essential to protecting the health of your soles. This can include:

  • Avoiding walking barefoot, especially on rough surfaces
  • Wearing shoes or flip-flops in public pools or shower areas
  • Keeping your feet moisturized
  • Applying sunscreen to your feet
  • Drinking enough water to keep your skin hydrated

If your peeling skin results from an athlete's foot infection, you may need an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription anti-fungal to treat it. Chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis can improve with moisturizers and immunotherapy.

Other conditions that cause more severe peeling, like toxic epidermal necrolysis, could require additional treatment, including hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics.

If one of your medications is causing peeling skin, talk to your healthcare provider about alternatives. Do not stop any regular medications without talking to your healthcare provider first.

Complications of Peeling Feet

Good foot care and moisturization can usually heal most cases of peeling skin on feet. Even conditions that cause your feet to peel, like psoriasis or acral peeling, don't usually lead to serious complications. However, if large enough areas of your feet shed skin, the loss of your protective skin barrier can lead to things like:

  • Infection
  • Fluid loss
  • Slow healing

Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider if you start losing skin frequently or in large sections.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Peeling Feet?

Your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose the source of your peeling skin with a visual examination alone. However, in some cases—like with athlete's foot or other infections—your healthcare provider may want to take a skin sample or swab of the affected area for more testing.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Regular visits with your primary care provider are important to your overall health. If the condition progresses to the point where you have trouble walking, experience severe pain, or have symptoms of an infection, you should immediately make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.

Summary

There are many reasons for peeling feet, including dryness, eczema, and medications. Most causes aren't that serious and can usually be treated with good foot care and moisturizers. However, if the problem becomes severe or persistent or causes pain or other symptoms, you should speak with your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Peeling feet can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it's not necessarily a serious medical problem. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have other symptoms in addition to foot peeling, are in pain, or have difficulty walking.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of infections may make you feet peel?

    Athlete's foot is one of the most common foot infections that can lead to peeling skin.

  • Is foot peeling serious?

    Foot peeling isn't always serious and can often be managed with good foot hygiene and moisturizer.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. MedlinePlus. Athlete's foot.

  3. MedlinePlus. Eczema.

  4. MedlinePlus. Psoriasis.

  5. MedlinePlus. Acral peeling skin syndrome.

  6. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Peeling skin syndrome.

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Toxic epidermal necrolysis.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and your feet.

  9. Nair PA, Patel T. Palmoplantar exfoliation due to chloroquine. Indian J Pharmacol. 2017;49(2):205-207. doi:10.4103/ijp.IJP_659_16

  10. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skinMolecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

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By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.