Your feet are the farthest from your mind — both literally and (in most cases) figuratively. Despite coming last on the skin care totem pole for a lot of people, however, your feet are the literal foundation of your body and enable you to do... well, most physical activities. As someone who’s been guilty of ignoring mine in my otherwise maximalist beauty routine, I’m here to tell you that foot skin care deserves more attention.
Sure, your feet only really see the light of day in sandal season and on beach vacays. For so long, the only love I’ve shown to my tootsies is through biweekly pedicures in the summer that become more sporadic in all other months. But then I spoke to every foot expert you could think of, and they all confirmed that your feet should really have their own skin regimen. Keep reading for what that entails, and what happened when I actually started taking proper care of my feet.
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Foot Skin 101
Your feet have unique needs because the skin there is different from other parts of your body. “The skin on the soles of our feet is thicker due to all the weight it holds and has more sweat glands than any other area of our bodies,” says Marcela Correa, a licensed medical pedicurist at Medi Pedi NYC. This makes them particularly prone to dryness, which can lead to cracked heels and roughness.
Although those two factors might make them aesthetically unappealing, leaving your feet unattended can lead to a range of more annoying ailments: calluses, Athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, cracked skin, and cellulitis (bacterial overgrowth). And these can all be prevented, for the most part, with proper foot care practices — which involve more than just slathering on foot cream and calling it a day. (Whoops.)
“A lot of people take their feet for granted,” says Dr. Neil Sadick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of foot care brand Stride. “But keeping your feet in excellent shape is an excellent preventative way for overall body health.” So having smooth, soft feet isn’t just for your appearance.
The Ideal Foot Skin Care Routine
A good foot care regimen boils down to three basic steps:
1. Exfoliate: To prevent cracking and soften rough calluses, experts recommend exfoliating your feet once a week year-round. As with your facial skin care regimen, you can use a manual or chemical exfoliant for the job. If you’re going with the former, nail artist Jin Soon Choi recommends using a pumice stone or a foot file to gently slough off dead skin. You could also use an exfoliating scrub or textured cloth.
For a chemical exfoliant, alpha-hydroxy acids (think lactic and glycolic) are the most common active ingredients used in foot peels and masks. These treatments (Baby Foot, for example) typically involve wrapping your feet in a sheet mask-type product for several minutes to an hour, depending on the product, then dealing with dead skin shedding over the next several days, which ultimately reveals smoother feet. These are a more intensive treatment, though — Sadick recommends doing them once every two months.
2. Moisturize: Moisturizing is arguably the most important skin care practice for your entire body, feet included, says Sadick. “You should be applying a hydrating agent at least once a day,” he tells Bustle, noting this will help prevent dryness and cracking on your heels. Choi recommends applying a moisturizer after every shower, as hot water dries out your skin. Just be sure to keep the skin between your toes dry, says Choi, as moisture in that area can lead to Athlete’s foot.
Your heels tend to dry faster than other parts of your foot, says Carrea, so give them extra TLC. Pro tip: “I suggest using a silicone heel protector with a cream at night while you’re sleeping to make sure some extra moisture seeps into the skin and not your sheets,” she tells Bustle.
Both Sadick and Carrea recommend foot creams that contain urea. “Urea is known for breaking down the protein keratin in the surface layer of your skin,” says Carrea. “This reduces dead skin buildup, cutting down your filing time.”
3. Tend To Your Toenails: Your toenails also contribute to the overall health of your feet, so don’t sleep on nail care. Choi and Carrea recommend applying oil to your toenails every day to keep cuticles nourished and hydrated. And don’t be too aggressive with your nail cutter: “Overly cut toenails at the edges are the easiest way to get ingrown toenails, so you must use caution,” says Choi. Your best bet is to trim them straight across.
Testing A Foot Care Routine
I’ve already conquered body care — how hard could it be to add these three steps into my regimen?
For three weeks straight, I began using a separate foot cream (versus my regular body lotion) after every shower — easy enough. It was the exfoliating, however, that was the most difficult to keep up. With my face, using a face mask treatment, chemical peel, or exfoliating scrub at least twice a week is a no-brainer; it’s simply one part of my extensive skin care routine. Dealing with my feet, however, somehow feels like a lot of extra effort — which is why I first turned to physical exfoliation via a pumice stone, which you can do in the shower.
Turns out, as long as there’s a stone or some sort of scrubbing tool within reach, scrubbing my heels and the bottom of my feet doesn’t feel all that time-consuming, and I love how baby-smooth my skin feels afterward. Using a chemical exfoliant-based foot mask, on the other hand, isn’t as quick or simple, but some people love the gross yet satisfying peeling that happens a few days after the treatment. To each their own.
If it means having dolphin skin from the ankles down and preventing cracks and calluses (or worse), spending a few extra minutes on my feet doesn’t seem so bad.
Celleno, L. (2018). Topical urea in skincare: A review. Dermatol Ther. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30378232/
InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Athlete's foot: Overview. 2015 Jan 14 [Updated 2018 Jun 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279549/
Jin Soon Choi, nail artist and founder of Jin Soon spa and nail care brand