An Expert Explains Exactly How To Exfoliate Your Feet For Super-Soft Skin

No salon appointment required.

Even those who have their skin care routines down pat tend to neglect their feet. Here's a three-ste...

Even those who have their skin care and body routines down pat tend to neglect their feet. And that’s pretty understandable — your feet are used and abused, and often hidden in shoes and socks. That makes them easy to forget about from time to time, so don’t worry if you don’t know how to exfoliate your feet. You’re definitely not alone.

Because of everyday wear and tear, “the skin on the feet can become thick, built-up, hard, cracked, and anything but supple,” says Dr. Alicia Zalka, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep. Your skin effectively acts as armor from the outer elements. When it comes to the skin on your feet, this means that “it responds to its daily demands by shielding us from harm by thickening in order to provide even greater defenses to pressure, rubbing, friction, and more,” Zalka explains.

The thickened skin is a natural response — it’s your body’s way of protecting you — but over time, it means you’ll probably need to exfoliate. Besides not looking the greatest, Zalka says that dull, calloused skin or cracked heels can eventually become painful to walk on.

Luckily, you can prevent things from getting to that point. Zalka says this entails keeping your feet soft by applying a moisturizer at bedtime. Even then, you still might find your feet in need of an exfoliation treatment. That’s why Zalka advises buffing the skin on your feet every 4-6 weeks, more frequently if you’re not maintaining a daily foot care regimen.

With that in mind, here is a three-step guide on how to exfoliate your feet.

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1. Soak And Soften The Skin

The first crucial step is to soften the skin. Forget this part and any subsequent treatment could be moot. As Zalka explains it, “the skin on the feet is so dense and thick, it takes some time for the product to adequately penetrate deep enough into the epidermis.” Ultimately, the success of the softening process will determine the success of the following step of sloughing and revealing fresh skin — so don’t skip it.

To set yourself up for success, Zalka advises soaking the feet in a foot bath or applying a foot mask. Depending on the toughness of your feet, this part will take about 10-30 minutes. Use your own discretion when it comes to a foot soak and adhere to the specific instructions if using a foot mask.

2. Slough And Exfoliate Your Feet

Some foot masks (think: the internet famous Baby Foot) will begin the skin-shedding process via chemical exfoliants. These products will come with their own set of instructions, but usually, layers of skin will begin to peel off on their own about 3-7 days afterward. You’ll see completely smooth feet about two weeks later (and daily foot soaks can help speed up the molting process).

If you have gone the foot soak route, the next steps involve “exfoliating the feet with a sloughing tool like a foot file, brush, pumice stone, or foot scrubber,” Zalka says. These tools are typically found in drugstore beauty aisles, and because they are handheld tools, there’s the added perk of being able to control the amount of pressure. Start slow and build up to your desired level of exfoliation.

3. Seal In Moisture

Like with any other part of your body, the last step of exfoliating your feet is sealing in moisture. “Apply a moisturizer or lotion liberally to the newly-exfoliated skin to allow a layer of protection and a final layer of hydration,” Zalka says.

Need some product recommendations? Shop seven Bustle-approved picks below — and your soles will be ready to slip into a new pair of slides in no time.

A Healing Moisturizer

This foot cream is both prevention and treatment. As prevention, apply this cream as often as you want — seriously, even a few times a day. It’ll help keep your feet hydrated and smooth. When your heels are in dire condition, wear a thick layer of the cream for 15 minutes as a mask.

An Internet Famous Shedding Mask

The infamous Baby Foot softens and exfoliates at the same time. The sock-like masks moisten the feet while the product’s unique formula works to break down dead skin cells.

A Detoxifying Foot Soak

To amplify the softening effects of your foot soak, throw a handful of these salts into your water. It gets bonus points for its detoxifying algae, lemongrass-mint scent, and ability to double as bath salts.

A Tough Foot File

Foot files are a dime a dozen, but this Tweezerman one stands out from the pack. It’s a double-sided, thick file made with silver which is known for its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Use the coarse side first; it’s meant to slough away dead skin cells and calluses. The second side is gentler and meant for smoothing the skin on the more sensitive parts of your feet like the arches and sides of the toes.

A Natural Exfoliating Tool

Pumice stones occur organically in nature when lava and water interact, so they are essentially the original exfoliating tool (but now, there are both natural and synthetic options). Regardless of which you choose, the porous surface of the stone helps buff away dead calluses.

A Classic Foot Grater

If you can’t even remember the last time you touched the skin on your feet, this drugstore staple is a dependable go-to. Does it look like a cheese grater? Sure. But this appliance has the grit that’s needed to slough off all that excess, hardened skin.

A One-Stop-Shop

Everything you need for proper foot care is in this Pedi Ready kit. It includes several foot exfoliation tools (like a file and toenail clippers), as well as the products you need to cleanse, moisturize, and keep your feet healthy day in, day out.


Dr. Alicia Zalka, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep