How to slough off that dead skin for softer, smoother feet
After a winter spent in sturdy snow boots and cozy house slippers, who knows what your bare feet even look like these days?!
As warm weather approaches — and with it, sandal season — you may be thinking about sloughing off that winter skin and readying yourself for summer. A foot peel mask could be just the ticket.
Dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, explains what foot peels do, what to expect and how to do them for the best results.
What are foot peels?
You know how snakes shed their skin and have fresh new skin waiting beneath it? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
Foot peels are a form of chemical exfoliation, a one-time application of a jelly-like mixture of exfoliating ingredients — usually alpha hydroxy acid, glycolic acid and/or lactic acid. You apply the mixture to the soles of your feet, which leads healthy new skin to grow there. Within a few days, your old, dead skin will shed to reveal the new skin underneath. Calluses be gone!
“You soak your feet in a blend of exfoliating chemicals, and five to seven days later, your dead skin basically dissolves and sheds,” Dr. Khetarpal says. “Underneath those calluses and rough, dry patches is smoother, softer skin.”
What foot peels can help with
Ever wondered why you have calluses on the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands but not anywhere else on your body? Your skin there is thicker than elsewhere on your body because your hands and feet are constantly in use.
“On our feet, the pressure of standing and the friction of wearing shoes and socks can lead to calluses and a thickening of the skin,” Dr. Khetarpal explains. “This makes it difficult for normal creams and lotions to penetrate and actually nourish that area.”
Because of all of this, skin on your feet sheds less frequently than on the rest of your body. Enter foot peels, which can help with:
- Dry skin.
- Rough patches.
- Thickened skin, like on your heels.
What to expect after a foot peel
One of the most important things to know about doing a foot peel is that it won’t kick in immediately. In fact, after you first do a foot peel, you won’t notice much of anything.
“Once you’re done applying the peel, your feet are going to feel normal at first,” Dr. Khetarpal says. “It takes a few days to start seeing the shedding, and then it just peels and peels until it’s soft and smooth again underneath.”
The process goes like this:
- Apply the foot peel. Follow the instructions on the package of your foot peel. Typically, you’ll soak your feet for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Have patience. Wait for the foot peel to work its exfoliating magic. It takes about five days to a week to start.
- Let the peeling begin. Once your feet start shedding, just let them do their thing. No touching! “Don’t try to speed up the process by using a pumice stone or anything,” Dr. Khetarpal says, “and you shouldn’t be scrubbing or manually peeling.”
- Lotions are OK. You can baby your feet a bit by applying fragrance-free lotion or oils during the process to keep them moisturized.
- Keep your feet covered. From start to finish, wear socks to keep dead skin contained. “Protect your feet until everything is done shedding,” Dr. Khetarpal advises.
The shedding process can take one to two weeks, depending on how much dead skin you have.
Are foot peels safe?
As long as you’re just trying to tackle basic roughness and dryness then, yes, foot peels are safe. If you’re prone to skin problems, though, a foot peel could aggravate them.
“A foot peel is not going to address issues like these, and it can actually make them worse by adding chemicals and irritating the skin,” Dr. Khetarpal explains. You shouldn’t do a foot peel if you’re currently experiencing or have a history of:
- Contact dermatitis (allergic reactions).
You should also avoid foot peels while you’re dealing with issues specific to the skin of your feet. “In these cases, you want to address the medical issue first before pursuing a foot peel,” Dr. Khetarpal advises. This includes:
- Athlete’s foot.
- Fungal infection.
- Sores or wounds.
In these circumstances, skip the peel and ask your doctor for guidance instead.
When to do a foot peel
A foot peel isn’t a regular addition to your beauty routine. It’s more of a one-and-done activity, at least for a while.
“You shouldn’t do a skin peel more often than every six to eight weeks,” Dr. Khetarpal says. “Really, once you’ve cleared away that dead skin, I would be surprised if people needed to do it more than every three or four months.”
And it’s best to do a foot peel in the cold-weather months, when your feet aren’t exposed. You don’t want to be peeling in strappy sandals or while you’re barefoot on the beach.
Other ways to soften your feet
If you want to give your feet a little extra love but don’t have the time to devote to a peel — especially in summer months — you can try these quick fixes to soften your soles.
- Try gentle drugstore tools. In the shower, use a pumice stone or callus remover to manually smooth the skin of your feet.
- Stay moisturized. Hardened heels may respond well to an exfoliating moisturizer like a urea cream or AmLactin® lotion.
- Treat overnight. For a few nights in a row, apply petroleum jelly to your feet before you go to bed, and sleep in cotton socks. “Really hydrate the skin of that area,” Dr. Khetarpal says.