The Downsides of Dry Feet

You don’t need us to tell you that dry, cracked feet can be intensely irritating—ugly, unsightly, itchy, uncomfortable. But the downsides don’t necessarily end there. For some people, dry skin can become severe enough to produce deep cracks underneath the heels and elsewhere. This provides ample opportunity for infections to get in. They may even bleed.

The soles of the feet don’t have any oil glands. Instead, they rely on sweat for lubrication. That’s one additional factor that makes them especially vulnerable to drying out and cracking, particularly in winter.

If you’re sick of dry feet, you’re definitely not alone. Unfortunately, the list of potential contributing causes of dry feet is a long one. That said, there are a number of effective strategies and remedies you can employ to prevent or sooth your cracking soles.

Dry feet on top of a dry desert | Expert Idaho Podiatrist

Caring for Dry Feet

If your feet are already dry and cracked, you’re going to want to treat it now. There are many different tools and products at your disposal, but it really breaks down to three basic steps: soften, exfoliate, and moisturize.

Start by softening your feet and improving your circulation with a nice foot soak for at least 15 minutes. Warm water is really all you need for this. However, if you really want the royal treatment, you can add about a cup of honey per gallon of water. (Honey contains natural enzymes that help bind moisture to the skin and accelerate the healing process.)

Next, exfoliate. This process helps remove dead skin, which can impair the healing process. Once again, you can go simple or can go fancy here. A simple pumice stone will generally do the trick. However, you may prefer to use an exfoliating scrub. You can purchase these at just about any bath goods store, or you can make your own. One popular and simple formula uses a roughly equal mix of brown sugar, olive oil, and (optionally) baking soda.

Finally, moisturize using a cream, lotion, or even applying a layer of heated paraffin wax or petroleum jelly. Put on a fresh, clean pair of sock to lock it in.

Preventing Dry Feet

As we said, there are dozens of potential causes and contributing factors to dry skin on the feet. Identifying these factors and minimizing them will help you soothe dry, cracked feet faster—and prevent them from returning.

Moisturize Daily

If the moisturizer only comes out when feet are severely dry and cracked, you’re doing it wrong! Moisturizing every day (or twice daily during the winter if you struggle with dry skin) is a good practice that will help keep your skin looking and feeling fresh.

The best time to moisturize is right after your shower. Pat dry until you’re only mildly damp, then moisturize and protect with clean socks.

Woman moisturizing her foot with a cream | Expert Idaho Podiatrist

Humidify Your Environment

We’ll be honest here: while there are lots of reasons to love Idaho, it’s a less-than-ideal climate for keeping your skin moisturized! The air here is more arid than the U.S. average pretty much year-round. Worse, cold winters cause us to spend most of our day in artificially-heated indoor environments, which are even dryer. This can suck the moisture out of your skin like a wet vac.

Installing a humidifier in a bedroom, office, or even a home HVAC system can help keep indoor environments from getting too dry. That’ll not only help with your feet, but improve respiratory distresses, too.

Eat Right and Drink Your Fluids

What you put in equals what you get out. If you’re dehydrated, moisture levels will decrease throughout the body—including the feet. So, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids—most importantly water, of course, though moderate portions of non-alcoholic fluids (coffee, milk, tea, etc.) can contribute to keeping you hydrated, too. In addition to dry skin, signs of dehydration may include thirst, dry mouth, dizziness and headaches, and dark yellow or orange urine.

In addition to water, skin needs to be supplied with critical vitamins and nutrients to stay healthy and moisturized. This includes antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. It also includes healthy fatty acids to replenish natural oils.

Turn Down the Heat in the Shower

We know, we know—nothing beats the relaxing feeling of a piping hot shower. But the truth is that showers (especially hot ones) actually decrease skin moisture, rather than increase it.

How can that be? The answer is that, while your skin naturally contains protective oils, proteins, and fats that are designed to lock in moisture, hot showers actually strip this barrier away from the skin. That allows moisture to escape much faster.

We recommend you turn down the heat a bit and avoid over-showering (taking too long in the shower, taking too many showers, or both).

Avoid Harsh Soaps

Many generic soaps contain harsh chemicals that can act as skin irritants. They also tend to be much more alkaline on the pH scale than skin; this can create an imbalance that can strip skin of its protective nutrients.

If you suffer from dry skin on the feet or elsewhere, you should specifically look for milder soaps—especially those that are free of artificial fragrances and contain refreshing ingredients like aloe vera, herbal oils, or chamomile. You can also try making your own soap—or skipping soap entirely and opting for a moisturizing shower gel or oil.

Reduce the Pressure

Too much weight and pressure on feet can cause them to dry out—and if your skin is already dry, that same weight and pressure will make the skin crack and fissure more severely. As a result, obesity is strongly associated with dry feet. Other common sources of pressure include prolonged standing, ill-fitting shoes, or even structural problems with your feet. If you want to improve symptoms over the long term, work at maintaining a healthy body weight, and make sure your shoes fit properly and offer sufficient support and shock absorption.

Manage Underlying Conditions

Dry feet can be a secondary symptom, consequence, or even early warning sign of a wide variety of medical conditions. This includes obvious skin conditions like eczema and athlete’s foot, but also systemic medical problems like diabetes, neuropathy, and thyroid disease. If you have any of these conditions, proper management is critical. If you don’t, and you can’t figure out why your skin is always dry, it may be a sign you need to check in with your doctor.

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