It's totally natural for the skin on your soles to get cracked, thick, and calloused, no matter what you're doing, but there are a few things that can exacerbate the problem. "Going barefoot is number one," says Jacqueline Sutera, DPM and Vionic Innovation Lab member. She's not alone, apparently skipping shoes can lead to a host of problems. "In general I don’t recommend walking around barefoot for prolonged periods of time, especially at the gym or communal bathing facilities," adds Miguel Cunha, DPM, founder of Gotham Footcare. "Walking barefoot exposes our feet to many germs, such as fungus organisms that can result in Athlete’s Foot, fungal nails, odor causing bacteria, and viruses that can lead to Plantar warts. These microorganisms can lead to infections that change the appearance, smell, and comfort of the foot which can all make the skin of our feet look so gross." Lovely.
But that's not the only reason why your feet can start to need a little extra love in between spa sessions. "Other things that cause skin to dry and crack include over-filing, because skin grows back thicker if you are too aggressive with the pumice stone, and medical conditions like thyroid abnormalities, psoriasis, and diabetes," says Dr. Sutera. She explains that age can also start to show itself on the bottoms of your feet (in the same way it does on the rest of the skin on your body), because the aging process decreases the amount of natural oil that skin produces, leaving it more prone to dryness and cracking.
How to exfoliate your feet
The skin on your feet is thick, which means it takes some thorough scrubbing or an intense active ingredient to remove the dead stuff. If you want to physically exfoliate, pumice stones are a great options. For a chemical exfoliation, pros swear by urea, which is a humectant and a kerolytic, which means that it hydrates and softens skin while also getting rid of thickened areas. You can also apply an alpha-hydroxy acid, like lactic acid, directly to your feet, and it will break the bonds between the dead skin cells and the healthy ones so that they'll fall off naturally. Follow up this method with a hydrating cream and a pair of socks, let it sit overnight, and you'll wake up to baby-soft feet.
How to make a DIY foot peel
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon of baking soda
Coarse granulated sugar, sea salt, or epsom salt
Soak your feet in the solution for 20 minutes, which Dr. Sutera says will help soften the calloused areas of your feet thanks to the acetic acid in the ACV. Then, use a textured scrub or pumice stone along with the salt scrub and slough your sole in one direction (avoid going back and forth, as it can cause cracking). This will exfoliate the dead skin, leaving your feet baby soft. Rinse it all off, then apply some made-for-feet lotion, like Amlactin Foot Cream ($14), which contains lactic acid to continue the exfoliating process while also smoothing and nourishing your soles.
Foot products worth investing in
If the idea of making a DIY foot peel isn't quite your thing, not to worry. There are plenty of foot peels and products on the market that will help you ditch all of that dead skin.
Baby Foot is consistently an Amazon best-seller is lauded for its ability to make your feet shed like a snake. You put your feet in little booties, wait for an hour, and wash it off. Then, about five days later, your skin begins to molt, until your skin feels super smooth and soft.
For a less intensive peel, Dr. Cunha recommends a urea-infused moisturizing gel, like this one. You can apply it evenly to both of your feet at night, wrap your feet in saran wrap and put on socks. "The saran wrap will promote the penetration of the gel into the foot to help break down rough calluses and dry cracked skin and promote smoother and softer feet," says Dr. Cunha. In the morning, take a shower and scrub your feet.
If you want to try some physical sloughing, grab a foot file. You can use this after your urea cream (like the one mentioned above) and it will "remove the thickened and callused areas of the foot that have been broken down and softened overnight," says Dr. Cunha.
Once all of the dead skin is gone, use a cream like this one to seal in the moisture and protect the dry, cracked skin. Make sure your feet are well-exfoliated before you apply, as Dr. Cunha warns that if they're thickened with calluses it will prevent the cream from penetrating as deeply as it should.
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