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How to treat persistently dry feet

Medical conditions, climate, chemicals, or age might be what’s causing them.

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Curology Team
Aug 24, 2022 · 7 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Dear Curology, 

I love walking barefoot during the summer or wearing my favorite sandals. But when I do, my feet get so dry! Every night I wash my feet and put lotion on, but it doesn’t seem to help. Why are my feet so dry even when I moisturize?

Signed, 

Dry Feet Blues

Dear Dry Feet,

We get you! Who doesn’t love slipping into their favorite flip-flops on those warm summer nights? But it can be embarrassing to look down and see Grand Canyonesque cracks in your heels. But what does “dry feet” mean, really? Well, it depends on what the probable cause is. Understanding why your feet are dry is the first step to treating them. 

Just to be clear, at Curology, we don’t manage dry feet or provide products to treat dry feet. But, as skincare professionals and licensed dermatology providers, we’ve learned a thing or two about dry skin, and that includes dry feet! So, here’s what we know—we hope this helps you.

• • •

What are possible causes of dry feet?

What causes really dry feet can be several things and may be exacerbated during the summer when it’s dry and hot. Nonetheless, dry, rough, or cracked skin on the feet is common because the soles of the feet don’t have oil glands. They also tend to get a lot more wear and tear than other parts of your body. 

Dry feet can result from everyday factors and potentially underlying medical conditions. Here are some of the most common causes of dry feet: 

  • Dry hot weather. Dry hot conditions can lead to dry skin all over, including on your feet. Walking around barefoot in warm weather can also contribute to dryness.  

  • Irritation. Excessive rubbing or friction over a specific area on the feet can lead to cracks in that area. Fissures (small cuts) can form on the heels. Standing for a long time or wearing ill-fitting shoes can contribute to irritation. 

  • Aging. As we age, our skin doesn’t retain water as well. This can also contribute to dry feet.

  • Ingredients in soaps and other products. Many skincare products have drying ingredients, e.g., denatured alcohol. Look for gentle products with hydrating ingredients. 

  • Medical conditions. Several medical conditions can affect the feet, including diabetes and eczema. More on medical conditions in a bit.

  • Medications. Side effects from certain medications, like diuretics, can dry out the skin (potentially the skin of the feet!). 

Dry and cracked soles of feet on white background

What are some skin conditions that can lead to dry feet?

Several medical conditions—and some treatments for certain medical conditions—can contribute to dry feet. If you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, speak with your medical provider or podiatrist before trying any home remedies for dry feet. 

  • Eczema causes localized skin inflammation. Eczema can manifest as dry, crusty, or itchy patches of skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, including the feet.

  • Athlete's foot is a fungal infection often resulting in a scaly red rash. It usually appears between the toes but can also occur on the sole, sides, and tops of the feet.¹

  • Diabetes can damage the peripheral nerves, causing neuropathy, which can affect the nerves in the feet. Diabetes can also damage the vascular supply to the feet. These factors can contribute to scaly, flaky, dehydrated skin, cracked heels, or injuries from loss of feeling and reduced blood flood.²,³ 

  • Hypothyroidism can lead to dry feet—especially on the soles of the feet—because the thyroid gland cannot properly regulate all the factors that keep our skin in its normal state.⁴ 

  • Cancer treatment can result in hand-foot syndrome. Hand-foot syndrome occurs from certain chemo drugs used to treat cancers. Hand-foot syndrome can result in redness, swelling, and blistering on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and it can be very painful.⁵

How to take care of dry feet

Ever ask yourself, “Why are my feet so dry and cracked?” If so, you’re not alone—dry feet are extremely common because there are so many causes. Whatever the cause may be, here are some ways to care for your dry feet: 

  • Cleanse. Use a moisturizing body wash regularly to remove dirt, dead skin cells, and other buildup from the bottom of your feet and between your toes. Pro tip: Try to skip products with denatured alcohol or fragrance to avoid further dryness or irritation. 

  • Soak. A 5 minute soak in lukewarm water can help add moisture back to dry feet. You can add ingredients to target specific foot problems— just ask your medical provider for recommendations first. 

  • Exfoliate. After bathing or soaking your feet, consider using a konjac sponge or pumice stone to get rid of excess dead skin.  

  • Moisturize. After cleansing and exfoliating, don’t forget to apply moisturizer. It’s a good idea to moisturize right after bathing, when your skin is still slightly damp. Use a rich cream, ointment, or Vaseline to deeply moisturize and protect your skin from water loss. 

  • Overnight foot mask. Try an overnight foot mask for extra dry, cracked, and rough feet. Slather on a thick moisturizing cream and don a pair of cotton socks. Snuggle up for a good night’s sleep and wake up with softer, hydrated skin.  

How to help prevent dry feet?

As always, prevention is best. Follow these tips from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) for proper foot care to help prevent dry feet in the first place.⁶ 

  • Practice proper foot hygiene. Thoroughly clean your feet, remove dead skin, and keep your skin hydrated. 

  • Avoid products with harsh ingredients. When you clean or moisturize your feet, avoid harsh soaps and products that contain denatured alcohol and added fragrance.

  • Avoid long baths and showers. When showering, bathing, or soaking your feet, limit it to 5-10 minutes. 

  • Wear shoes that fit. Avoid ill-fitting shoes that can potentially rub and irritate your feet. Rubbing can cause calluses, which can crack and dry out.

What are some of the best moisturizers for dry feet?

So, if you’re asking yourself, “Why are my feet so dry all of a sudden?” Then it might be time to start using moisturizer. With so many choices out there, we thought we’d help narrow it down for you. Here’s a list of over-the-counter products we recommend for dry feet.  

Get more expert advice from Curology

While we can’t treat your dry feet, feel free to get in touch with your Curology dermatology provider if you have any skincare concerns around acne, anti-aging, hyperpigmentation or rosacea. Still not a Curology member? you can sign up for a free 30-day trial.* 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Not ready for that just yet? We dove deep into our vault to find information that will help answer your skincare questions related to dry skin: 

All my best, 

Nicole Hangsterer, PA-C

FAQs

What are possible causes of dry feet?

  • Dry hot weather.

  • Excessive rubbing or friction can lead to cracks in that area.

  • As we age, our skin doesn’t retain water as well.

  • Ingredients in soaps and other products, e.g., denatured alcohol.

  • Several medical conditions can affect the feet, including diabetes and eczema.

  • Side effects from certain medications, like diuretics.

What skin conditions can lead to dry feet?

  • Eczema can manifest as dry, crusty, or itchy patches of skin.

  • Athlete's foot is a fungal infection often resulting in a scaly red rash.

  • Diabetes can damage the vascular supply to the feet.

  • Hypothyroidism can lead to dry feet.

  • Cancer treatment can result in hand-foot syndrome. Hand-foot syndrome occurs from certain chemo drugs used to treat cancers.

How to take care of dry feet?

  • Cleanse and use a moisturizing body wash regularly. Skip products with denatured alcohol or fragrance.

  • A 5-minute soak in lukewarm water can help add moisture back to dry feet.

  • Exfoliate.

  • After cleansing and exfoliating, don’t forget to apply moisturizer.

  • Overnight foot mask.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Ely, J.W., et al. Diagnosis and management of tinea infections. American Family Physician. (2014, November 15).

  2. Aditya K. Gupta, MD, PhD. The diabetic foot. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2004, March 1)

  3. Orak, D. Evaluation of the Tolerance and Efficacy of a Body Cream, Body Wash, and Hand and Foot Cream in Relieving Dry Skin in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2019, October 1).

  4. Safer, J.D. Thyroid Hormone Action on Skin. Dermato-Endocrinology. (2011, July 1). 

  5. Demarco, C. Chemotherapy Side Effect: Hand-foot Syndrome (Palmar-plantar Erythrodysesthesia). MD Anderson Cancer Center. (2021, March 11). 

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. How to Care for Dry, Cracked Heels. (n.d.)

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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