Skin falling off your feet — whether it’s peeling, flaking, or drying — can be unpleasant. It can be uncomfortable, and it can be a nuisance. There can be several reasons why your feet are peeling. From fungus to dermatitis, there are less severe and more severe reasons your skin peels.
Peeling skin occurs when the top layer of your skin (the epidermis) flakes and falls off. Peeling skin may result from skin damage or an underlying condition in which peeling is the symptom. Where on your foot the skin peels can also provide clues as to why your feet are peeling.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the leading causes and sources of peeling skin.
Reason 1: Fungal infections
Fungal infections are one of the leading causes of dry and peeling skin. Athletes’ foot is the most common variant of fungal infections. Fungal infections occur when fungi target a body part, and your immune system cannot prevent invading fungi. Athlete’s foot is a common culprit of dry and peeling skin on the feet.
Athlete’s foot is a contagious skin infection that often occurs after exposing your feet and toes to damp, cool environments. Fungi thrive off moisture. You can catch this condition from others via public spaces like a locker room or pool or simply coming in shared contact with a surface.
Relevant signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot concerning peeling skin include:
- Dry or peeling on the soles of the feet
- Stinging, itching or burning
- Cracked skin on the heels
- Foot odour
There is one meaningful way to distinguish purely dry feet (which we look at below) from athlete’s foot: Athlete’s foot looks more like a rash, whereas dry feet look just like dry feet. When your foot dries, it begins to flake and peel. Fortunately, treatment options for athlete’s foot are simple. Over-the-counter topical antifungals are effective.
Reason 2: Dry feet
Dry feet can be dry feet—hard stop. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a related foot condition causing peeling skin. Peeling skin may be the natural extension of dry feet. But your environment also affects your foot’s moisture levels. Namely:
- Sunburns. Sun exposure, specifically overexposure, dries the skin and can lead to peeling.
- Hot showers. Heat draws moisture away from the skin. Naturally, hot showers will do the same and reduce moisture levels in the skin. Avoid towelling off aggressively so as not to aggravate dry skin, increasing your chances of peeling skin on your feet.
- Climate. Dry climate (inside or outside). As mentioned above, heat draws moisture away from the skin since it reduces humidity and water in the air. So, look for dry skin if you live in or visit a warmer climate or in the winter. Heaters, fireplaces, or wood-burning stoves can also cause dry and peeling skin.
Reason 3: Eczema
Eczema can be a cause of peeling feet.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema), as it’s known, is a condition that causes dry, itchy and inflamed skin. Atopic dermatitis is long-lasting (chronic), can sporadically flare up, and can be uncomfortable. However, eczema is not contagious.
There are two types of contact dermatitis:
- Irritant contact dermatitis: a condition where the outer layer of your skin is damaged/irritated. Irritant contact dermatitis is more surface level. According to the National Association of Eczema, irritant contact dermatitis accounts for roughly 80% of all contact dermatitis.
- Allergic contact dermatitis: a condition where your skin has an immune reaction to a foreign substance, either directly or through consumption. Allergic dermatitis can be surface level, but it can also have a more profound impact below the surface layer of the skin.
Reason 4: Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a skin-related autoimmune that targets various body parts, including the knees, elbows, trunk, scalp, and feet. This skin disease causes a rash with itchy patches that can turn into peeling skin.
Psoriasis is quite common. It’s a chronic disease with no cure, but there’s plenty to do to treat it including topical therapy, light therapy, and oral or injected medications.
Reason 5: Blisters
Blisters are tiny fluid-filled bubbles that form beneath the outer layer of the skin. The fluid provides a cushion to the underlying tissue. When the blister dries, you may experience peeling skin due to the damage caused by friction to the skin.
It’s important to note that blisters’ drying and peeling process is natural. If you prefer to reduce the dryness, apply petroleum jelly or an ointment.
There you have it! Five possible reasons why you may have peeling feet.