Why Foot-Peel Masks Smooth Your Skin Like Nothing Else & Exactly How To Apply One

mbg Contributor By Kayleigh Roberts
mbg Contributor
Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor who received her B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
foot peels tutorial

Image by mbg Creative

As we head into sandal season, it's time to think about a body part that doesn't really get to see the light of day during the winter months: your feet. If you're looking to refresh your southern extremities, there are a few options. You could book it to the closest salon and select the most extensive (and, in most cases, expensive) pedicure on the menu. You could invest in an at-home exfoliation tool resembling a cheese grater (yep, they do exist), or you could opt for a "chemical" solution featuring natural exfoliating acids in the form of a foot-peel mask.

If you opt for the latter, here's everything you need to know, from the benefits of foot-peel masks to how they work and a step-by-step guide on how to use them.

Why you may want to consider a foot-peel mask.

When it comes to removing unwanted, rough, and callused skin from your feet, foot-peel masks are an increasingly popular option, thanks in large part to the Baby Foot craze that first swept the internet in 2016. And while Baby Foot might be the most well-known foot peel out there, it's far from the only one.

So, what are the benefits? For one, foot-peel masks might be safer than old-school callus-removal methods. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, using a foot file or foot razor to remove dead skin and calluses can lead to permanent damage and infection. The results of a foot-peel mask may also last longer and cause less physical discomfort.

Foot peel masks are also a convenient at-home option and typically pretty inexpensive. "They're an affordable and easy alternative for patients who want smooth, soft feet and can't get to the salon for a pedicure," says Lisa Airan, M.D., a dermatologist specializing in natural, high-tech skin care. "You wear foot masks for 20 minutes [and up to an hour] to achieve soft skin with no downtime."

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How exactly do foot-peel masks work?

Foot-peel masks work just like chemical peels on the face. "The typical foot mask comes with two booties infused with ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids, fruit extracts, oils, and peptides," Dr. Airan explains. These ingredients cause the rough outer layer of skin to shed, almost like a snake's skin, over the course of about two weeks.

While most foot-peel masks promote the fruit extracts and oils in their advertising, the real workhorses in these products are the alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), like glycolic acid. Other common exfoliating acids include salicylic acid and lactic acid.

AHAs work by penetrating the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin, consisting mostly of dead skin cells) and breaking it into smaller sections so it peels away. It's important to remember that this process would happen naturally without the AHAs—they simply speed up the process. As for how AHAs manage to break down layers of dead skin, the current leading theory is that they trigger an influx of calcium into the corneocytes (the cells that make up the stratum corneum), which then burst, leading to exfoliation.

How to apply a foot-peel mask.

If a peel mask sounds like the foot exfoliation method for you, here's what you need to know about applying one, from start to finish:

  1. Assess the tools: Baby Foot and similar products typically come with thin plastic booties, tape to hold the bags in place during the treatment, and, of course, the exfoliating solution your feet will be steeped in. With most brands, including Baby Foot, the solution is already inside the plastic booties, so all you have to do is step in.
  2. Prepare your feet: In order for the exfoliating acids to effectively penetrate and break down your outer layer of skin, you need to first wash your feet with soap and water, and then soak your feet for an additional 15 minutes or so. After you do this, pat your feet dry.
  3. Put on the booties: Next, put on the booties like socks and secure them with the tape that comes in the kit. If you'd like, you can put socks on over the booties to keep them in place. Whatever you do, make sure you're sitting somewhere comfortable since you won't want to walk around during the treatment (it could be very slippery). Consider using this time to meditate or even take a nap.
  4. Wait about an hour: The amount of time you'll wear the booties will vary from brand to brand. Some recommend as little as 20 minutes, but most recommend allowing your feet to soak in the solution for at least an hour. This allows time for the solution to penetrate the thick outer layers of skin on the bottom of your feet.
  5. Remove the booties and rinse: When you remove the booties, it's important to rinse off the solution thoroughly. Leaving these strong exfoliating acids in contact with your skin for too long increases the risk of irritation. After you rinse, pat your feet dry, put on a pair of socks, and go about your day. 
  6. Consider soaking some more: While this step isn't mandatory, some reviewers of these foot peel masks have said that optimal results (and speedier peeling) are achieved when you spend a few minutes soaking your feet in warm water for several days following treatment.
  7. Be patient: How long it takes to see results will also vary from person to person. Some people report noticing the beginning of a peel within hours of applying the mask while others say it takes several days. The peeling process won't happen all at once, either. For most people, the peeling is spread out over the course of several days (sometimes as long as a couple of weeks), usually beginning with the skin on the sole of the foot and ending with the skin around the ankle and on the top of the foot, which is typically thinner and less callused. And nope, it shouldn't hurt, as long as you don't prematurely tug and peel at the shedding layers.
  8. Enjoy your baby-soft feet: Once all of the dead skin has peeled away, what's left is refreshed, ultra-soft skin that should be free of calluses and cracking. You can maintain your silky smooth results by regularly applying a moisturizer or body oil to your feet.
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Are there any side effects of foot peel masks?

It's important to note that some people are sensitive to the AHAs present in foot peel masks. Potential side effects include swelling, blisters, and inflamed skin. So, if you have sensitive skin, or have had an adverse reaction to a facial chemical peel product in the past, you should definitely consult your doctor or dermatologist before trying a foot peel mask. You should also never use a foot peel mask if you have open sores or cuts on your feet, as exposing them to these exfoliating acids would be very painful.

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