Can't Make It to the Salon? Here's How to Exfoliate Your Feet at Home

December 08, 2022
Jordan Julian
By: Jordan Julian | by L'Oréal
A person's legs in a filled bathtub, one knee bended up and hands resting on the knee.

Skincare doesn't just stop at your face 一 and if you're dealing with extremely dry feet, then you may want to consider adding some extra steps (no pun intended) to your routine. While foot care certainly isn't glamorous, taking a few additional moments each week to care for the skin on your feet will go a long way in improving how they look and, more importantly, how they feel. And while getting regular pedicures is a great way to keep your feet in great shape, it’s not always realistic. You may not have the time to frequent the salon, and biweekly or even monthly pedicures can get expensive fast. 

We spoke to a board-certified dermatologist and a dermatology nurse practitioner to get the lowdown on how to exfoliate your feet at home, plus other foot care tips, to mimic that oh-so-good post-pedicure feeling.  

Causes of Dry Skin on Your Feet

Before you embark on your foot care journey, you may want to understand why the skin on your feet can look and feel dry. While you can get dry skin anywhere, it’s important to note that the skin on the soles of your feet (and the palms of your hands) is a bit different from the rest of your body. 

For one thing, the top layer of the skin is much thicker in these areas. Another big difference, according to board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Stryke Club Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, is that the skin on the bottoms of your feet does not have any hair follicles or sebaceous glands, though it does have sweat glands. 

“The thickness of the stratum corneum [the top layer of your skin on your feet] and the lack of oil producing sebaceous glands can lead to drier skin in this location,” says Dr. Maguiness. “In addition, the high concentration of sweat glands produces a moist, sweaty, high friction environment for your feet that paradoxically can lead to irritation. Over time, chronic irritation can lead to inflammation and further thickening of the skin on the soles of your feet.”

Other causes “include allergic contact dermatitis, caused by someone having an allergy to their shoes, tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), a fungal infection of feet (this is probably the most common cause) and eczema,” adds Dr. Jodi LoGerfo, a family nurse practitioner certified in family medicine and dermatology.

How Can You Prevent Dry Skin on Your Feet?

“Preventing dryness on your feet is similar to how you prevent it on the rest of your body,” explains Dr. Maguiness. “Gentle cleansing and immediate application of a moisturizer immediately after bathing is an extremely helpful way to keep the skin on your soles well hydrated and, in turn, improve the skin barrier on the soles of your feet.” 

We like the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, a basic but effective moisturizer that helps restore your skin’s natural protective barrier. 


CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

Dr. LoGerfo also has some additional tips for keeping the skin on the bottoms of your feet as soft and supple as possible, such as keeping your showers under ten minutes, since bathing for too long can dehydrate your skin. She also suggests using lukewarm water; water that’s too hot is another dry skin culprit.

Another preventative measure you can take is moisturizing your skin while still slightly wet and immediately putting socks on afterwards to lock in that hydration. 

Finally, Dr. LoGerfo advises to avoid walking around barefoot. “This can expose already dry and cracked feet to bacterial or fungal organisms.” 

Benefits of Exfoliating Your Feet

Still, dry skin on the soles of your feet is something of an inevitability. That’s where exfoliating comes into play. 

“If you have thickened, dry skin on your feet, it might be an indication that the skin barrier on your soles is impaired,” says Dr. Maguiness. “Paying attention to that and making sure you soften/exfoliate the skin and regularly moisturize might help prevent painful cracks, fissures and ultimately infections that can occur on the feet — both fungal and bacterial.”

Basically, exfoliating will help slough your soles of dead skin cells, smoothing any roughness and making your skin feel much softer.

How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Feet?

The frequency with which you should exfoliate your feet depends on your skincare habits, namely how often you are moisturizing them. If you moisturize your feet regularly, you may only have to exfoliate a few times a month. You may also find yourself needing the refresh more often in the dryer winter months.   

How to Exfoliate Your Feet in 4 Easy Steps

Step 1: Soak

Like a pedicure, there’s no reason why the exfoliation process shouldn’t feel relaxing and indulgent. Plan to do this at night time so that you can let your feet exfoliate overnight for the best results. 

Start off by taking a nice bath or, if baths aren’t your thing, soaking your feet in warm water for at least 10 minutes. You’ll want to keep them submerged until they get that familiar wrinkled appearance so you know the water has penetrated the top layer of your skin.

Step 2: Apply a Keratolytic Cream 

According to Dr. Maguiness, using a cream with keratolytic properties is essential to properly exfoliating your feet. A keratolytic is “a compound that helps to break down keratin in the outer layer of your skin, making it softer, more supple and easier to hydrate,” she explains. “Common keratolytic agents include Urea 40% cream, lactic acid or other AHA/BHAs, such as salicylic or glycolic acid.” 

Once you’re out of the bath, pat your feet dry and apply the cream of your choice, taking care that it contains one of the keratolytic ingredients mentioned above. 

Step 3: Seal It in With Petroleum Jelly and a Sock

Let your cream absorb into your skin for a few minutes, then apply a basic petroleum jelly ointment all over your soles to lock in the exfoliating properties. Finish by putting a dampened cotton sock on each foot. 

Step 4: Bedtime!

Slip dry socks over your damp ones, so you don’t get your sheets all wet and messy, and you’re ready to hop into bed. After enjoying a hopefully restful night of sleep, you’ll wake up with unbelievably soft, hydrated feet! 

Other Foot Exfoliation Methods 

Don’t have time or the necessary supplies on hand to try Dr. Maguiness’ foot exfoliation tutorial? Here are some other methods. 

Use a Scrub

Just like you might use a scrub to exfoliate dead skin cells on areas like your scalp, arms, legs and more, this method can also be effective on the feet. It’s best to apply your scrub to your feet in the shower or when they’re damp as skin is easiest to exfoliate when it’s soft. The Kiehl’s Gently Exfoliating Body Scrub is great because it effectively removes dead skin cells while leaving the skin soft and not stripped of moisture. 


kiehls gently exfoliating body scrub

Use a Pumice Stone 

If a scrub isn’t effective enough for you, give a pumice stone a go. Pumice stones are made from lava and water; together, they make a hard stone with an abrasive texture. They may be too harsh for areas like the tops of your feet, but they’re great for buffing away hard, dead skin on the heels and sides of the big toes. All you’ll need to do is gently massage the pumice stone in circular motions on your skin to exfoliate. 

Use a Foot File 

Another great at-home option is using a foot file, such as the Tweezerman Sole Smoother Antibacterial Callus Stone, to buff away calluses and dead skin. You can get an affordable one at most drugstores, and they’re often made with a pumice-like material or a surface which resembles that of a cheese grater. Foot files can be intense, so be sure to buff it gently onto the skin and work up the intensity as needed. 



Try Paraffin Wax

If you’ve ever gotten a pedicure 一 often called a “spa pedicure” 一 where wax was applied to your heels and wrapped in plastic seal, it was probably paraffin wax. Paraffin wax is a malleable wax that when melted, applied to the feet and left to sit, will take off the dead skin cells when removed. If a trip to the nail salon isn’t in the cards at the moment, you can purchase an at-home paraffin wax kit. 

Apply a Foot Peel Mask

Unlike gentle peeling products for the face, a foot peel is a type of mask specifically formulated to remove dead skin from your feet, leaving you with baby soft, good-as-new skin. It’s a chemical peel that usually comes in the form of what looks like plastic socks. You’ll leave them on for the directed amount of time and, over the next few days, your feet will shed the dead skin. 


The Baby Foot Original Exfoliation Foot Peel, a one-hour treatment, is a popular example of this type of foot mask.  


Baby Foot Original Exfoliation Foot Peel

Editor’s note: Like most proper skincare routines, finishing off with a hydrating product is key to keep your skin looking and feeling soft. The CeraVe Healing Ointment is great to apply after exfoliating your feet because it’s specifically formulated to relieve and protect skin that’s chapped, cracking and very dry. And remember, if you have any questions regarding the proper way to take care of the skin on your feet, reach out to a board-certified dermatologist or a podiatrist.

CeraVe Healing Ointment 


Photo: Chaunte Vaughn


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