This Derm-Approved DIY Foot Peel Will Save Your Cracked, Callused Heels
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Let's chat about foot care for a moment. As the thicker skin is able to withstand trauma (friction from running, too-tight shoes, and just overall bumps and dings), you might brush it off as an afterthought. Callused, cracked heels are just inevitable, right? Wrong!
For smooth, crack-free feet, you'll want to slough away excess dead skin. Enter: the almighty foot peel. Although, we're not talking about those intense market peels that may grace your social media feeds, where users end up peeling off scales like a snake shedding its skin (strangely satisfying to watch, no?). Rather, you can actually create a DIY foot peel with products you already own and achieve similarly gratifying results.
Below, see how derms suggest pampering those soles with your own DIY solution. Foot care just got a lot more fun.
Why you should exfoliate your feet.
Perhaps you've never thought twice about exfoliating your feet, save for a monthly pedicure or two. I mean, the skin on the soles is quite thick, so does it really require diligent care? Well, "If you don't exfoliate your feet at all, [the skin] can crack," says board-certified dermatologist Purshiva Patel, M.D., founder of Visha Skincare. "Some people can itch or feel pain—that's when the nerves start to fire. Those cracks are also open to the environment, so bacteria can get inside the skin." Oh, ouch.
And since the skin on the feet is a high-trauma area, board-certified dermatologist Joyce Park, M.D., says you can experience lots of skin buildup from repeated pressure, a condition called hyperkeratosis, as she explains in a TikTok video.
That doesn't mean you have to opt for a market peel. Your feet do exfoliate naturally, and Patel notes that even just walking around barefoot exfoliates the feet for some. It is a slower process, though, so you can always speed it up with products.
How to make a DIY foot peel.
Let's revisit those satisfying viral videos. Those peel products, says Park, are "basically a blend of strong acids, like salicylic, lactic, malic, and citric acids." They're super strong, and according to Patel, it's not so safe to create those in the comfort of your kitchen. But! You can create some gentler at-home peels to buff away dead skin. They might not produce as much dead skin for you to tug, but derms say you shouldn't do that anyway (more on that in a moment).
Repurpose a serum.
If you've ever tested a glycolic or salicylic acid serum that was too heavy-duty for your face, don't toss the bottle just yet! Patel notes you can repurpose that number for a fine foot peel. Again, the skin on the feet is more durable—"The stratum corneum (top layer of skin) is very thick on the feet," Park says—so your soles are better equipped to handle the more potent actives.
Here's what you'll need:
- Exfoliating serum of choice (glycolic, lactic, salicylic, et al.).
- Moisturizer (Patel suggests diluting the serum in some lotion to simultaneously hydrate the soles).
- Mix the two together—a few drops of serum to a dollop of moisturizer, perhaps—and massage it into your feet.
Create an exfoliating soak.
If you truly wish to go the DIY route, Patel says you can soak your feet in a solution of lemon juice and vinegar. "It won't give you the same satisfying 'peel' but can do some exfoliation," she notes. After all, lemon juice and vinegar do contain some natural AHAs. Specifically the all-hailed apple cider vinegar: ACV contains "AHAs like lactic, citric, and malic acids," board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., says regarding foot soaks. When applied topically, these acids work to "exfoliate the uppermost layers of the skin, revealing skin that appears smoother and more hydrated."
- In a large bowl, combine 1 part lemon juice, 1 part vinegar, and 2 parts warm water.
- Soak your feet for 10 minutes or so, then dry them off completely.
- Follow with moisturizer, as lemon juice and vinegar can be drying on the skin (even for the feet).
Use a pumice stone.
OK, this one's technically not a "peel," per se, but pumice stones are stellar at exfoliating the feet. This porous stone can manually buff away calluses, and they're actually great to use post-peel for some extra skin smoothing. While you can find full instructions here, below are some of the highlights:
- After loosening the top layer of skin with some exfoliation (a la one of the two peels above), soak the feet in some warm water for five minutes before rubbing the stone in circular motions across your foot.
- Using medium pressure, rub for about two to three minutes to achieve your desired smoothness.
- Towel dry, then apply a moisturizer to seal any micro-cracks.
Tips and warnings.
As we mentioned above, your feet probably won't shed an entire layer of skin like in those aforementioned clips, but you may experience some peeling one or two days after the fact. Don't rip the loose skin! "Do not forcefully peel or tug skin away," says Park. "Let it fall away naturally or carefully cut."
Also, you shouldn't opt for a peel if you have any open cuts or wounds on your feet. Remember: These are strong acids (even if you go the lemon-vinegar route) that can cause some stinging and irritation. On that note, "Be careful of allergies to strong acids," reminds Park. Even though your feet can handle some more intense treatment, you might want to patch test on your heel to make sure you don't face an aggressive reaction.
Yes, you can totally create a DIY foot peel at home. It might not lay on as strong as those market peel-off products (these come loaded with intense exfoliating agents), but you'll still have smooth, callus-free soles in no time. And after you're done exfoliating? Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize—that's how you keep those cracks at bay.
Heal Your Skin.
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Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.