One of the most common foot complaints is xerosis–a fancy word for dry skin. Dry skin is something we all deal with, but it seems like when our feet get dry, they get atomic levels of dry. And there’s a scientific reason your feet are likely to be the driest part of your body.
As I talked about in my best body lotion guide, your skin acts as a barrier to keep microbial threats out of our bodies and keep moisture in. When that armor is compromised, we can start losing that moisture. Our bodies combat this with oil glands in our skin that produce natural oils to keep our skin hydrated and sealed off. It’s a fairly good system.
But the bottoms of your feet are one of the few parts of your skin that don’t have oil glands. Which makes sense–can you imagine trying to walk around with oily feet? I already slip and fall for no reason. The last thing I need is the whole world feeling like a freshly waxed floor. This evolutionary tactic does leave our feet vulnerable to drying out however. To combat this, your feet have a high concentration of sweat glands, but putting water onto dry skin won’t actually help much unless you have an oil to seal that moisture in, acting as a substitute armor.
Dry skin itches and can crack, exposing us to infection. It’s important to keep our feet properly moisturized so they can properly perform their job.
What causes dry feet?
Dry feet has all the same causes as dry skin on the rest of your body, with a few causes specific to feet. Non-moisturizing soaps, spending time in hot water, too much sun exposure, and dry air either from heating or natural climate can cause skin to lose too much moisture. As we grow older, are skin becomes thinner and loses our natural fat padding below the surface, so even age can be a contributor. Ill-fitting shoes or shoes that don’t allow your feet to breathe can also cause dry skin. As anyone who has lived through the resurgences of the trend of plastic jelly shoes can tell you, when your feet can’t breathe, they sweat. That moisture has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from your feet’s water reserves.
There are several medical conditions that can contribute to, or outright cause, dry feet. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis cause dry skin wherever you are affected and your feet are no exception.
One tricky issue is that athlete’s foot can sometimes look a lot of like simple dry skin. Both this common fungal infection and dry skin can cause flaky, dry, itchy feet. They can be hard to tell apart unless the athlete’s foot has really progressed. I’m not a doctor and can’t definitively say anything with authority, but the general litmus test: do you have dry skin between your toes? Because that’s not normal dry skin and you want to be seen by a doctor or be looking at anti-fungal creams at the very least. This is important here because if you have athlete’s foot, moisturizers will only make your problem worse. If you’ve been putting foot cream on your dry skin for a couple of weeks and the dryness is getting worse, you’ll need to reevaluate the situation.
Diabetes can also cause dry feet as well as make the body more susceptible to infection so it’s especially important for diabetics to take good care for their feet before they get to the cracking stage.
What causes cracked heels?
Sometimes when our feet get so dry that our skin loses its ability to properly stretch, they can crack open and cause fissures that are painful and can easily become infected. Most often, cracked heels happen when you combine super dry skin and either standing for a very long time or wearing sandals or clogs with open backs.
Shoes that don’t have a back to them don’t give any support or compression to the heel of your foot. Without that support, the pad of your heel spreads out wider than it would in sneakers for example. This spreading causes the skin to bulge out the side, almost in a pinched position. That puts the skin on the edges of your heels under a lot of strain and when your skin is dry and in trouble already, it can open and cause a fissure. If you don’t have a medical condition, like diabetes, that can make these a more serious problem and your feet aren’t infected, a good moisturizer should be enough to heal cracked heels.
When to see a doctor.
If you have the access and financial means, I say the time to see a doctor is when you start wondering if you need to see a doctor. If it’s a little more complicated than that, it’s important to get medical attention when there are signs of obvious infection like puss or weeping or seriously foul odors. If you’re having difficulty walking from foot pain or the dry skin has spread to the tops of your feet or your toenail–these are signs you might need something more than a quality foot cream.
Can’t I just grate all the dry skin off?
Well, sort of. Pedicure machines are meant to remove calluses which are different from dry skin. Calluses are a build up of dead skin that your body creates on purpose in response to repeated pressure or friction. Your body means to make a callus but your body doesn’t ever intend to have dry foot skin. That doesn’t mean you can’t use these machines and files to help rid of you the dry skin. Just be aware that there is live, feeling skin under there and it’s easy to go too far especially if you have a medical condition that causes you to lose feeling in your feet. For more information you can check out my guide to the best electric pedicure machines. Either way, you always want to use a good moisturizers after exfoliating.
How to get touchably soft feet.
Three things: hydrate, make use of your AHA’s, and moisturize.
Hydrate. If you’re not drinking enough water, all your parts are going to be dry. That moisture has to come from somewhere.
AHA’s. Alpha hydroxy acids are natural acids derived from foods that are used in chemical peels. Lotions that have AHA’s, and body peels in general, will help your body remove dead skin that has built up so you can deliver the moisture where you need. it. For more information on how AHA’s work, see my guide to the best body peels.
Moisturize. Keep reading this post for the top foot creams of 2017 to keep your feet supple and soft. To make the most of them, apply before bed and wear cotton socks to keep your creams from rubbing off on the sheets.
1. Ahava Dead Sea Water Mineral Foot Cream
I’ve included Ahava’s Dead Sea mineral creams in my guides to the best luxury hand creams and best body butters because Dead Sea minerals have been known for their skin benefits since the time of Cleopatra when she included Dead Sea water and mud in her beauty regimen (which also included baths of donkey’s milk as a natural chemical peel–check out my best body peels article for how that works.) Dead Sea minerals soften skin, stimulate the growth of fresh new cells, kill acne-causing bacteria, and soothe skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. They also coax dry skin into opening up and drawing in and keeping more moisture. You know how eating too much salt causes you to retain water? Well, salt causes your skin to retain water and that’s a good thing when you have dry feet.
Ahava actually has three foot creams which I would recommend in order of how intense you need your moisturizer to be. If you have dry feet and are looking to hydrate and prevent them from getting worse, the Dead Sea Water Mineral Foot Cream is for you. It’s the lightest moisturizer and uses avocado, jojoba, sweet almond, and wheat germ oils along with glycerin and aloe vera to hydrate skin. Dead Sea water does its thing while antibacterial tea tree and astringent witch hazel condition skin, helping it to hold on to more moisture. Lactic and salicylic acids act as a gentle chemical peel to rid you of built up dead skin. The fragrance is clean smelling and nondescript. Some have called it perfumey, but on your feet, you tend to smell it less so it’s not the biggest problem if the fragrance isn’t your cup of tea.
If your feet and heels are already in bad shape and need a little extra care, go for heavier creams like the Ahava Dead Sea Mud Dermud Intensive Foot Cream which adds Dead Sea mud to the mix along with coconut and sea buckthorn oils or the Ahava Clineral D-Medic Foot Cream which was developed with dermatologists and targets cracked heels with Dead Sea minerals and mud, specific oils and botanical extracts. Keep in mind, however, with this last one that you need to wait 10 minutes before wearing socks or shoes after applying. It’s all a matter of how heavy you need your foot cream to be.
- Three choices of hydration levels, all with Dead Sea minerals
- Free of parabens, GMO’s, sulfates, petroleum, or animal products
- Cruelty free
- Strong enough to tackle cracked heels
- Clineral D-Medic is artifical fragrance free
- You either love or hate the fragrance
2. Bliss Aloe Leaf & Peppermint Foot Patrol
If you’re dealing with dry feet that leave your skin itchy and uncomfortable, Foot Patrol is a cooling foot cream that can help ease the itch while it softens and removes built up skin. Aloe vera, glycerin, and lanolin (a natural oil derived from wool) moisturize thirsty skin with the cooling effect of aloe. Peppermint extract, eucalyptus extract, and camphor all have cooling, antibacterial properties that are known to reduce itching, irritation, and inflammation giving you relief from the feeling of dry skin. This foot cream doesn’t contain any added fragrance, but these three aromatic ingredients give the cream a refreshing, minty menthol scent.
For most people this minty cooling effect is relaxing and soothing, but if you have severely cracked heels that bleed, these cooling herbs may be comfortable. For cracked heels, go with something that focuses more on deep hydration. The real power in this cream is in its chemical exfoliation. Glycolic acid derived from sugar and salicylic acid derived from willow tree bark work as a natural chemical peel. These alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) break down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together making built up dead skin slough off revealing soft, touchable feet underneath. It does the job of pumice stones, razoring, scrubs, and calluses removers without the physical trauma or pain.
- Soothes itch, irritation, and inflammation
- Minty menthol scent
- AHA’s exfoliate dead skin
- Moisturizing aloe and lanolin
- Contains parabens, PEG’s, artificial colors, and alcohol
- Not for cracked, sensitive feet
- Not vegan (lanolin)
3. Elemis Treat Your Feet Foot Cream
Elemis’ Treat Your Feet Foot Cream has a similar cooling sensation to soothe irritated skin as the Bliss Foot Patrol, but with more intensely moisturizing oils. It uses camphor and eucalyptus oils for their cooling and healing properties which also means you probably don’t want to put this one on broken skin. Patchouli oil adds fragrance and encourages healing and stimulates cell production. Between the patchouli and camphor, this does have an assertive herbal scent that fades quickly.
For hydration, Treat Your Feet contains shea butter, jojoba oil, glycerin, beeswax, urea, and mineral oil. Shea butter and jojoba oil are some of the top moisturizers I would want in any cream for very dry skin. Urea is a moisturizer that is naturally made by the human body and dry skin often signifies that your body can’t produce enough and that’s where lab-made urea comes in as a substitute. For most people this is the perfect, body-compatible moisturizer. A rare few, myself included, tend to react to urea–but if you do you probably already know it since urea is in a fair number of products these days from skin lotions to deodorants. Treat Your Feet is a thick, luxuriant cream that can transform rough, chapped heels into sandal ready feet.
- Cooling eucalyptus and camphor
- Contains shea butter and jojoba oil
- Fragrant patchouli oil aids in healing
- Trusted luxury brand
- Contains PEG’s and mineral oil
- Not vegan (beeswax)
4. CND Cucumber Heel Therapy
The Cucumber Heel Therapy from CND is a concentrated balm that targets heels and other rough patches like elbows and knees. It’s a super concentrated cream so you only need a little bit at a time, meaning your jar can last you a long time. The star of the show is cucumber extract which has a cooling, refreshing feel to it as well as being an anti-inflammatory. This cream has the scent of fresh cut cucumber, that sweet, cold, melon-y smell that always reminds me of summer. If it’s important to you that all your moisturizers are dreamy to smell, then Cucumber Heel Therapy is a good choice.
Unlike some of the other botanical heavy creams, this one doesn’t contain camphor or eucalyptus so it may be more comfortable to put on severely cracked heels. Plus it doesn’t have that menthol, Vic’s fragrance. Instead, botanicals like calming chamomile extract and cooling aloe vera hydrate and soothe irritated skin. To further moisturize, CND uses urea, vitamin B5, soybean oil, and lactic acid which is almost a very mild chemical peel to help remove built up dead skin. It soaks in quickly and isn’t greasy. The CND Cucumber Heel Therapy comes in this smaller 2.6 ounze jar as well as a 15 ounce jar with realistic cucumber images on it and I’m a sucker for packaging. I recently featured CND’s Almond Hand Lotion in my best luxury hand creams article.
- Great pick for cracked heels
- Fresh cucumber fragrance
- Nourishing botanicals like chamomile, cucumber, and aloe vera
- Mild chemical peel from lactic acid
- A little goes a long way
- Contains artificial colors
- Rather small jar
5. Kneipp Healthy Feet Foot Repair
This calendula and rosemary foot cream harnesses the skin nourishing powers of botanical extracts to soften feet and condition your skin. Calendula is one of the gentlest, most nourishing botanicals there is for your skin. This yellow-orange flower eases pain, reduces inflammation, and contains vitamin A and antioxidants. Rosemary moisturizes, supports collagen production, and is naturally antiseptic–did I mention foot odor generally comes from bacteria?
To aid these herbs, deep moisturizers like shea butter, sweet almond oil, sunflower seed oil, glycerin, and urea restore hydration to parched skin with this thick, buttery cream. It does have a prominent menthol scent to it from camphor and eucalyptus which soothe inflammation and itching. Extracts of hops, orange flower, and maritime pine reduce inflammation, itching, and redness. All of these botanicals make this a very calming balm for irritated feet and cracked heels that need the help of an intensely hydrating foot cream. Compared to some of the others, this one might take a little longer to soak in, but it’s perfect for a nighttime treatment.
- Lots of soothing botanicals
- Strong menthol smell from eucalyptus and camphor
- Deeply hydrating shea butter, sweet almond oil, and urea
- Thick, rich texture
- Scent is strong
- Takes a little longer to absorb
6. Queen Odelia Nourishing Foot Cream
For a foot cream that is packed with loads of hydrating moisturizers, Queen Odelia is a great choice. It’s a very thick cream that’s almost whipped because it goes on lightweight for such a rich cream. It absorbs quickly and is nongreasy which is always a plus. The unique moisturizers in this is prickly pear seed oil which is high in essential fatty acids and has more vitamin E than even argan oil. Vitamin E is great for skincare as it fights free radicals and rejuvenates skin by stimulating cell turnover.
On top of that, this cream also includes jojoba oil, argan oil, coconut oil, glycerin, silicone, and aloe vera for deep hydration. Dead Sea minerals help your skin absorb more moisture and witch hazel and algae extracts condition and improve the texture of your skin. It has a light, pleasant fragrance and is a great choice for a foot cream to follow up your exfoliation. My only criticism is that this could easily be used on your whole body as a body cream as it doesn’t directly target feet with any of its ingredients.
- Hydrating prickly pear seed oil, jojoba oil, and argan oil
- Never greasy
- Chock full of vitamin E
- Contains antibacterial witch hazel and Dead Sea minerals
- Nothing seemingly foot related
7. L’Occitane Shea Butter Foot Cream
L’Occitane is a French brand I have featured in my best luxury hand creams, best body lotions of 2017, and best body milks articles. Their products are high end and often use lavender oil sourced locally from Provence, France. This thick, intensely hydrating cream is 15 percent fair-trade shea butter. It sounds like a small number, but for a lotion that’s a huge percentage. This one can tackle deeply cracked heels, scaly soles, and tough, dry feet. Along with 15 percent shea butter, the L’Occitane Foot Cream also packs coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, and glycerin. This is heavy duty stuff.
Many foot creams are meant for daily use, but this cream is so potent you can only use it occasionally and still have your flaky feet transformed into touchable toes. That also makes your tube last longer since you only have to use it as needed. It has a relaxing lavender scent and includes extracts of rosemary and arnica–rosemary is antiseptic and arnica is most commonly used on sore back muscles, so if you suffer from aching feet arnica is a perfect addition to your foot cream.
- 15 percent fair-trade shea butter
- Arnica extract for sore muscles
- Ultra concentrated
- Can tackle cracked heels
- Calming lavender fragrance
- Contains mineral oils
8. Glytone Ultra Softening Heel and Elbow Cream
This is going to be the odd man out in the foot cream list. This foot cream by Glytone is targeted to the driest, thickest, most callused, and most hardened feet. I’m talking the parts of your feet that you want to pumice, grate, or shave off. This foot cream is odd because you have to wash off–it’s a combination foot cream and chemical peel. The thick, silky cream is packed with moisturizing glycerin, vitamin E, and mineral oil, but the active ingredient is glycolic acid.
Glycolic acid is derived from sugar and breaks down dead skin so that you can remove it easily and reveal the soft, fresh skin underneath. You apply this foot cream a couple time a week to the hardened areas of your feet and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes while it hydrates and while the glycolic acid does its job. Then you want to rinse it off. Glycolic acid is strong stuff and if you leave it on too long it can leave a kind of burn. But it’s inarguable effective against calluses and hardened, cracked heels. That said, this isn’t for everyone. If you only have slightly rough feet seasonally and are just looking for a good cream, this isn’t for you. I recently also featured Glytone’s Mini Peel Gel in my guide to the best body peels.
- Erases calluses and hardened built up skin with chemical peel action
- Hydrating glycerin and vitamin E
- Contains parabens, PEG’s, and mineral oils
- You have to wash it off
9. Nu Skin Epoch Sole Solution Foot Treatment
If the idea of a foot chemical peel appeals to you, but the Glytone cream seemed a little too strong, you might want to try Nu Skin Epoch Sole Solution Foot Treatment. First off, kudos to Nu Skin for the punny name, but back to business. The Sole Solution Foot Treatment contains papain which is a proteolytic enzyme found in papayas. It’s not a standard acid chemical peel, but it will help to break down dead skin in the same way. These enzymes are why pineapple makes your mouth feel funny after a while. This enzyme will slowly dissolve your dead skin in a much more gentle way than a strong glycolic peel. You don’t have to wash this off, you just apply it like any other foot cream. That does mean that it will take longer to see dramatic results, but for some that’s absolutely worth it.
To speed up the process, Nu Skin also includes a tiny amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, in this cream. Sodium hydroxide is a common main ingredient in cuticle removers, but this small amount will only help to increase the chemical peel action. You can read my guide to the best cuticle removers for more information. This cream also contains deeply hydrating urea, glycerin, silicone, and extract of allspice berries–a uniqie ingreident which is antibacterial, antioxidant, increases blood flow to your feet, and gives the cream its warm fragrance.
- Allspice extract nourishes skin
- Hydrating urea and glycerin
- Papaya enzymes act as a chemical peel
- A little goes a long way
- No parabens or artificial fragrances
- Contains alcohol and sodium hydroxide which can be drying
10. Clarisonic Pedi-Balm Hydrating Foot Cream
The Carisonic Pedi-Balm Hydrating Foot Cream is part of the Clarisonic Pedi System and while it works great in concert with full Pedi System, it’s great enough on its own to warrant buying it individually if you don’t want the rest of the kit. As it’s meant to be used after the exfoliation step of the Pedi System, this foot cream is all hydration. There aren’t any fancy camphors or cooling herbs or AHA chemical exfoliation: just pure moisturizing oils. The Pedi-Balm hydrates your dry feet with shea butter, apricot kernel oil, glycerin, honey, and silicone to seal all that moisture in. It’s great on its own if all you need is a deep moisturizer and you already have a preferred foot exfoliation method. If you’re looking for a whole foot system, this Carisonic Pedi Kit has everything you need to work in conjuncture with your Clarisonic Smart Profile Massager.
- Deep hydration from shea butter and apricot kernel oil
- Antibacterial honey
- Great for post-exfoliation
- Works on its own or in the Pedi System
- Works best in the complete Pedi System
- Not vegan (honey)
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