How The Pros Remove Dead Skin From The Feet + Keep Them Smooth
When you think of applying skin care, the feet are probably the last area you prioritize. But why? Our feet help us get from place to place and face some pretty intense wear and tear through all of that.
Because of this neglect and constant wear, it's not uncommon to have dead skin around the feet. However, it can still be frustrating to deal with and prevent—so here's the 101 from skin experts.
How to remove dead skin on your feet.
If you need to overhaul your feet ASAP, we'll get right to it.
Use a foot file.
First up is a classic foot file. If the dead skin on your feet is tough and thick, this option might be your best bet. Luckily the feet are much less sensitive than the rest of the body, so using a strong mechanical exfoliation method like this is A-OK.
But can you use these tools daily? "Yes, if your skin is not sensitive, it is safe to give your feet some love by doing a light exfoliation daily," says NYC-based medical esthetician and founder of JTAV Clinical Skincare Joie Tavernise.
However, you shouldn't apply too much pressure when using the foot file. If you do, you'll risk over-exfoliating them and even causing painful wounds on the bottom of your feet. Simply let the tool do the work for you.
Reserve your foot file for those really tough spots like the heel or the balls of your feet—not the softer skin of the sole. For those areas, choose one of the options to come.
Opt for a pumice stone.
If you like the idea of mechanical exfoliation but can't tolerate a harsh foot file, then a pumice stone may be a better fit. These tools are a bit gentler than files but still work wonders for sloughing off dead skin.
Call upon chemical exfoliation.
Chemical exfoliation is just another method of exfoliating the feet. Rather than manually scrubbing or filing the dead skin off, simply apply an exfoliating serum to the feet. These serums don't necessarily need to be formulated for the feet, but many are.
The difference between facial exfoliant serums and foot serums is generally the strength of the active ingredient. Your feet have tougher skin and tend to be less sensitive, so they can handle those stronger formulas.
Zubritsky uses a cotton pad to apply a layer of The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toning Solution and follows up with a petrolatum jelly and cotton socks—but you can use any AHA or BHA serum (think lactic acid, salicylic acid, etc.) and an occlusive moisturizer (like a botanical oil or thick body lotion) for the same effect.
This method of slugging with exfoliants is generally not recommended for the face but is one A+ method for the feet. Leave your products on overnight, and in the morning, you'll wake up to smoother skin.
As always, be sure to patch test before going all-in with any strong exfoliant.
Draw a milk bath for the feet.
If you're going to dedicate some time to taking care of your feet, why not make it an intentional and relaxing moment? Whipping up a warm milk bath is just one way to do so—and it's so easy.
You can opt for animal milk for the lactic acid content or alternative milk like oat and coconut for deep hydration. Whatever you choose, feel free to dress it up with some bath oil, dried rose petals, or whatever else fits your fancy. Think of it like an all-natural pedicure, DIY-style.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of milk baths and dive into how to create your own, here's a quick breakdown.
Hydrate like it's your job.
After you exfoliate away the dead skin, you must apply a topical hydrator. "These two steps will remove dead skin cells that are causing dryness and replenish moisture on the feet," Tavernise explains.
You can get a specialized foot or hand cream, but a high-quality body lotion will do just fine—without overcomplicating your routine. Apply your lotion to the feet every night (and morning, if you feel so inclined).
After you apply the lotion to your feet, you might even slide a breathable cotton sock over the top to lock in moisture—again, slugging the feet.
If sleeping with socks makes you cringe, then layer a body oil over your body lotion to hold in the moisture instead.
What causes dead skin on the feet?
Apart from the lack of exfoliating and skipping your daily lotion ritual, there are a few other factors that contribute to dry skin on the feet, which then lead to dead skin. A few of the most notable include:
"Our feet have fewer oil glands than the rest of our body," Tavernise says. This is why it's essential to keep the feet moisturized—as they're even more prone to dryness than the rest of the body.
"This is especially true in the cold winter months when skin tends to be drier," she adds. So even if your feet feel silky smooth in the summertime, you may be more prone to dryness as the temperature drops.
The more you move, whether it be exercise, walking around, commuting via foot, etc., the more you subject your feet to wear and tear. Some exercises, however, may be a bit harder on your feet than others.
"The friction of jumping or intense exercise can lead to cracking of the feet on the heels and making it look extremely dry," Tavernise explains.
This doesn't mean you need to quit jumping exercises altogether, just tend to the feet afterward to nip the dryness in the bud.
Extra hot showers
Hot water strips the skin of its natural lipids and therefore can compromise the barrier. Without this critical moisture barrier, skin (including that on your feet) can dry out.
In addition, you may want to limit the time spent showering too. "Being mindful of how much time you spend in a bath or shower is another simple solution, as overexposing your skin to water can strip the water from your skin, resulting in more dehydration," board-certified dermatologist Shereene Idriss, M.D., told us about dehydrated skin.
For those with dry or sensitive skin, you'll want to be extra mindful of the body soaps you're using in the shower. "If you have sensitive skin, eczema, or a history of any skin disease, please be sure that any body wash you use is sulfate- and artificial-fragrance-free," says board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD. Look for hydrating formulas buffered with emollients and oils instead.
As you age, your skin naturally gets drier with time. This is because your body's levels of hyaluronic acid, collagen, and ceramides all start to decline—three factors that contribute to more hydrated skin.
So, it's no wonder the feet are also affected by this shift. Luckily, you can boost your internal bank of essential hydrators via skin supplements—here's our list of top picks if you're in the market.
When should you see a doctor?
"People with severely dry feet should contact a medical provider and make sure there is no underlying health cause, like diabetes and thyroid issues," Tavernise notes. So if you're doing everything right at home and still see consistent dead skin on the feet, it's best to consult a medical professional.
Further, if your dead skin is conjoined with redness, irritation, or scales, then it may be eczema or psoriasis. These skin conditions call for much more specific care and products, so it's best to visit a dermatologist if that's the case.
Can diabetes cause dead skin on the feet?
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes may cause changes in the skin on your feet due to poor blood flow to the area. Speak with your doctor for more information on how to best manage diabetes if this pertains to you.
What vitamin deficiencies cause dry feet?
Vitamin deficiencies can affect skin, nail, and hair health. If you have dry skin on your feet, it may be a sign of low levels of vitamin C, E, B3, B12, iron, and fatty acids. However, the best way to find out if you are deficient in any nutrient is to consult with your health care practitioner.
What's the easiest way to remove dead skin from feet?
The easiest and quickest way to remove dead skin from the feet is to use a foot file or pumice stone. Do this after the shower so your skin is extra soft and easy to remove. After that, follow up with a thick body lotion or foot cream.
In order to remove dead skin from the feet, you'll have to show them some TLC. Use a foot file or pumice stone after showering, and follow up with a thick body lotion or foot cream. Keep up with this practice every few days at least to prevent future dryness. And if you want to take this self-care practice a step further, you might even call upon foot reflexology—here's everything you need to know about it.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.