My mean feet
August 2, 2011 7:40 AM   Subscribe

My feet are horrid and dry and cracked and scaly. How can I fix them?

Mainly, my skin is really dry down there, dry enough to catch on my socks. And it hurts a bit. I need an idea of what the most effective way is to sort this out at home - pedicures are not plentiful over in the UK as they are in the US, and my feet are pretty sensitive so I don't want to accidentally kick someone in the eye when they touch them! What products and lotions should I be using?
posted by mippy to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Eucerin is what the visiting nurse had me put on my dad's dangerously dry feet back when that was his biggest problem.
posted by Glomar response at 7:47 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could try lanolin cream. In the US a popular brand is Lansinoh. It's often used by nursing moms, but it works wonders on feet too!
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see now that there are a lot of Eucerin products. The nurse specified Eucerin Original Moisturizing Creme.
posted by Glomar response at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2011

Get a pumice stone, some really good, thick lotion, and some thick cotton socks. Bonus if you can find some sort of acne wipe (like Stridex) with salicylic acid.

Soak your feet for a while until they're soft, preferably while you're bathing yourself (just because it's nice), but a bucket with warm water and bath salts will do.

Go to town on them with the pumice stone (do one foot while the other is still soaking, to maximize softening time). You'll be doing it yourself, so the sensitive feet thing shouldn't be much of an issue. Buff off as much of the dead stuff as possible.

Dry them gently. Rub them all over with the acne wipe (it'll help to heal the cracked heels).

Rub them liberally with lotion, so that they're wet. Put on the socks. (Do this before you go to bed at night so they can soak up the moisturizer.

Do this every single day until your feet become manageable. Then you can drop down to a quick pumice once a week in the shower and nightly non-sock lotions. But going full-steam ahead at the start is what you need to whip your feet into shape if you're starting from nothing.

(Regular maintenance is key, though. My feet are soft--I still put lotion on them every night and pumice regularly. That's why they stay soft. You've gotta be proactive.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2011 [25 favorites]

If you wear socks, putting on lotion before wearing them will help retain that moisture for the day (or night, if you wear open shoes during the day and can stand having socks on in bed).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2011

Okay, I'm a runner, AND I'm of somewhat more-generous-than-usual proportions for a runner, so I know ALL ABOUT nasty, gnarly feet. Here's what you wanna do:

- Forget normal pedicures and Ped-Eggs and pumice stones and such - they will NOT be as effective on you as on someone with daintier dogs.

- Go to your nearest drugstore. Buy a callus shaver. Also buy some thick, rich, goopy moisturizing stuff - Vaseline would be okay, as would Aquaphor or my favorite, Neutrogena Original Hand Cream. Also buy a pair of plain white socks.

- Go home and soak your feet in warm water for at least 20 minutes or so.

- After they're nicely-soaked, use the callus shaver to gently - GENTLY!!! - shave away any super-thick areas of thickened dead skin. If you are too aggressive, you can and will draw blood.

- Once all excessive dry nastiness is removed, slather your feet in moisturizer - use a LOT - and don those plain white socks. Leave 'em on for at least a few hours. Re-moisturize your feet several times per week.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2011

Aiiiie, the most-excellent phunniemee beat me to the punch! :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:51 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Diabetics have this problem and there are many products out there in the pharmacy section of a store.
posted by futz at 7:56 AM on August 2, 2011

The only thing that ever worked for me was a good pedicure (they don't do callus shaving here, so really it's just a good foot cleaning and massage), followed by PedEgg usage once weekly before a bath.
posted by theraflu at 7:58 AM on August 2, 2011

Callus shavers can be really scary the first time you use it - be careful not to go too deep.

Bag Balm is my go-to for excessive chapping. Slather it on, wrap your feet in clingfilm, and put a pair of wooly socks on over the lot. Leave til feet are sweaty and squishy.

More expensive solutions include those Bliss foot-softening socks and their expensive minty foot lotions.
posted by elizardbits at 7:58 AM on August 2, 2011

Response by poster: I went to a drugstore today (Superdrug, which is a big chain) and they didn't have very many foot specific products. I thought the same thing - although why do diabetics in particular need to look after their feet?
posted by mippy at 7:59 AM on August 2, 2011

Diabetes is associated with poor circulation, which means that diabetic feet often lose sensation, are at risk to become infected, or may become painful (diabetic neuropathy, I think it's called).

I have this idea that putting mineral products on my skin doesn't help. Perhaps I'm irrational, but my feet never responded to anything with petrolatum in it. In the winter, which is when my feet are the dryest, I do an epsom salt soak, followed with a loofah scrub. After I dry off, I lather up with Burt's Bees Hand Salve and put on a pair of socks to hold in the moisture. The hand salve is strongly aromatic, which isn't for everybody, but I like it. And I love what it does to my feet. Maintenance only requires one or two applications per week, which I also like.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:06 AM on August 2, 2011

A word of caution, if you're putting on thick lotion/foot cream at night be careful when stepping into the shower or tub. I've had my feet slip right out from under me the next morning and that was no fun.
posted by Kimberly at 8:12 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've had luck with creams with high concentrations of urea, and salicylic acid was mentioned above. According to this, lactic acid is the third keratolytic commonly used in foot cream. Keratolytics actually help remove the dry skin, whereas regular moisturizers (like Vasoline) are just a moisture barrier. You are quite likely to need something with one (or more) of those three ingredients, and also likely to need something with a high percentage.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:13 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend cocoa butter. It's hard to find in the "regular skincare" section (read: the White Anglo American Products Aisle) and impossible to find in "footcare" but it's what you want.

Go to your local drugstore (Walgreens, Rite-Aid or equivalent) and go to the area where they sell African-American hair products. Why they put this stuff here, and/or why it's tied to a certain demographic, I'll never know, but this is the stuff you want.

I use the Palmers cocoa butter in the big white jar with the blue lettering. It's as close to straight cocoa butter as you can get OTC without it being a solid chunk from the hippie store. Bonus is it smells terrific, if you don't mind your feet smelling like a Hershey bar, that is.

Oh and yea, get a pedicure or soak/scrub off the excess callus like everyone is telling you. Counterintuitively enough, it's all that thickened rough skin that's the stuff that cracks.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:15 AM on August 2, 2011

Google It!
Worked for me and my feet were made of plastic!
posted by Studiogeek at 8:27 AM on August 2, 2011

This won't do you much good since you're in the UK, but lonefrontranger: my old local Walgreens (in a predominantly black area of town) carries 100% cocoa butter sticks a dollar each. It is amazing, amazing stuff. This brand, hilariously AS SEEN ON OPRAH.

OP, you don't need specialized "foot" products. Foot lotion, etc, is mostly just standard lotion with a specialized label (and a specialized price tag), with the exception of products like what Mr. Know-it-some mentions. Cocoa butter and shea butter will both be thick lotions, appropriate for the feet. I would stay away from petroleum jelly, since that's more of a moisture trapper than a moisture-adder (and right now you don't really have much moisture to trap).
posted by phunniemee at 8:28 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might have a fungus. Oxistat 1 percent lotion is working WONDERS for me a mere two weeks after my podiatrist prescribed it. It costs a fortune, even with insurance, but I'm sold on it.
posted by jgirl at 8:35 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

FYI, I saw Palmer's cocoa butter lotion on sale in the UK fairly regularly. I think Boots and Sainsbury's both had it, at least in London.
posted by MadamM at 8:36 AM on August 2, 2011

I use the same method as phunnimee and julthumbscrew, starting with the soak, then on to the shaver, then the pumice, then the lotion (rockclimber here, serious callouses).

But I was recently gifted a "miracle cure" which I'm going to test soon. It's made by Scholl's, the European version of Dr. Scholl's owned by SSL International.
posted by likeso at 8:42 AM on August 2, 2011

Scholl, not Scholl's. Heh.
posted by likeso at 8:45 AM on August 2, 2011

I get horribly dry feet if I don't work on them. I've found the Body Shop wooden foot file surprisingly good for regular maintenance, and the one foot lotion that has consistently given me beautiful results when applied several nights running is the eminently affordable Freeman Bare Foot lotion. I'm not sure if it's available in the UK though.

If you want to splurge, I understand the greatest foot file of all time is the Diamancel #20.
posted by Dragonness at 8:59 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

AmLactin Lotion is great for rough feet. It uses lactic acid to smooth skin.
posted by jrichards at 9:03 AM on August 2, 2011

haha phunniemee, I used to get those very same cocoa butter sticks from my old ghetto Walgreen's in Dayton, Ohio (also a predominantly black region) for the facial chapping / windburn that results from bike commuting in cold weather / salt spray. But that was twenty years ago and I'd no idea they still existed.

Out here in diversity-free Boulder, Colorado, I have to really hunt to find the stuff without buying it online, which sucks because, you know, it works regardless of your skin color. Also, those sticks are pretty hard to spread in anything but a very thin "barrier" layer (i.e. Chapstick) unless you warm them up first, whereas Palmers CB is a thick cream which is (IMO) more suited to foot care. 100% CB (just like chocolate, which it basically is) tends to be a solid at room temp.

Also to the OP - my bad on the research fail; I'd no idea you were reporting in from London. My case still stands though - you don't need speciality products, you just need something thick and moisture providing, like shea or cocoa butter, and you need to exfoliate the thick dead layer off to prevent it cracking.

minor derail: Bag Balm is just Vaseline with a bonus splash of sulfa drugs, so while it works absolutely great for certain things (er, saddle sores come to mind) it's not so great for foot care especially if you're allergic.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:09 AM on August 2, 2011

oh and, also, sorry for the serial replies - a lot of your thinner lotions/creams contain a higher concentration of alcohols and/or esters (to thin them and make the lotions "non-greasy"), which means if your heels are actually cracked to the point of bleeding this stuff will tend to irritate them, not soothe them.

Many of the additives like salicylins, peppermint oil, tea tree oil, menthol, and the various alcohols in "foot care" products can be extremely irritating to sensitive or broken skin. They put them in there for that "cooling zing" that will feel good on tired feet, but honestly what you're feeling is a very mild burning sensation that actually translates to more drying once the lotion is absorbed (slightly off topic but the same applies for lip balm too). And, if your skin has extra bonus open cracks that mild cooling sensation will turn into "OH MY GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP!!!!"

You can exfoliate with a pumice or foot file, you don't need salicylates or lactic acid tacked on there, with the risk being that these products can also tend to overly thin / dry out / damage the delicate skin on the tops of your feet / between your toes if you overdo it.

I speak from experience, both personally and from decades in the pharma industry. Skincare is a racket, and most purpose-marketed "foot creams", etc... are just hype. Simple is best and things like plain lanolin, plain shea butter, plain cocoa butter, etc... will go quite a bit further towards solving the problem quickly and painlessly. The problem is that they're pretty cheap and basic, so there's no real glamor in selling them.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:25 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have had good luck with Neutrogena's Intense Repair Foot Cream, which is available on Amazon UK here.
posted by zoetrope at 9:34 AM on August 2, 2011

Response by poster: I bought a foot file a while ago, but it didn't seem to make much difference. Is there a technique?

Superdrug used to sell pure coconut butter, but I don't think they do now. It's hit and miss on whether a chemist will sell products for black hair, but I could try going to a local wig shop (in some parts of London there seems to be a lot of wig/extension/weave shops that also carry all the black hair products like Dark and Lovely, so it might be worth a peek there).

I had a look at Palmer's, but they just seemed to have the regular lotion that comes in the big bottle - which is great for eczema but not sure it will work on actual cracked skin.

We have got a lanolin cream brand that's just arrived in the UK, Lanolips, and I wondered about getting some of their Lanolin Rose Cream for my hands this winter, but it seemed pretty expensive (£10 for a small tube). Is it worth it?
posted by mippy at 9:42 AM on August 2, 2011

80% of the work can be done by a heel file after a long shower and/or soak. You should be able to find metal files that look like tiny cheesegraters (or the PedEgg), or a little paddle with fine grit sandpaper on it. You will be astonished at how much stuff just disappears from a gentle filing on a well-wet foot.

Rinse well, put a little lotion (pretty much anything in the world, whatever you have to hand) and some clean socks for a while.

Repeat weekly or so (maybe 2x/week the first two weeks) for maintenance.

Most of that stuff isn't really callous proper. It's just...a skin ridge. It comes off pretty easy.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:03 AM on August 2, 2011

I run and swim quite a bit and my heels get very dry and cracked and things grow on them. I used to think I was doing good for my feet by soaking them and applying fungus creams. Then I chanced on the Medline Plus site, which is written up by the US National Library of Medicine. The doctor wrote that soaking feet dries the skin of natural oils---so a foot soak and a file is actually drying the skin and thinning it out. Here's what I switched to: I no longer expose my feet to hot water, only cold. After the shower, I excavate my toenails with an orange wood stick so they don't grow into my skin. I have an electric drill thingy made for pedicures (it cost ten here in the us) I bought in a drug store. I go barefoot as much as possible. I spray my thongs with alcohol---I use vodka----and it kills bacteria and warts. Yay. The doctor no longer has to take an iron and burn a hole in my foot. ;) When I put in my shoes, I rub beeswax into my heels and pull my sock forward so my toes have the penthouse.
Rotate shoes and socks often, often. Feet are fungus, ingrown toenail, wart free. Beeswax has anti bacterial, microbe properties. Trust the bees.
posted by effluvia at 10:25 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need cream with urea in it. Urea, Medical Use

You are looking for the 20% concentration. Ask the chemist if you don't see some on the shelf. They usually have some available for diabetics, but sometimes you need to ask. Some brands are Carmol 20, Kerasal 20 or Gormel 20%. They have the creams formulated at a 40% concentration, but that's much more aggression than you need.

That stuff is will dissolve the nasty rough skin leaving you with lovely smooth tootsies.
posted by 26.2 at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have very dry feet and the biggest recommendation I can give is wear socks with lotion. In particular, I lifeguard and hate wearing shoes, this means my feet fall apart. I can tell when I've been on the pool deck more often because my feet are so dry. Wear socks as often as possible- shoes instead of flip flops or sandals, to bed, around the house, etc. Wear socks!
posted by raccoon409 at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2011

Apologies for the second reply, but I do have to recommend a salon pedicure one more time, if only for the fact that having another person experienced in foot care work on your feet will give you an idea of exactly how hard you're allowed to file and scrub. With my cracked and bleeding heels, I tried a foot file, but my touch was far too light. I simply don't have the upper body strength to really go to town. Once I had someone else take a crack at them, I understood the value of a second set of hands.

I agree that the skin care industry is a racket, and while lotions and scrubs are great to maintain, you really need to have the existing cracks filed down and thoroughly cleaned before your feet can improve. You can slather on all the products you like, but physical maintenance, for me, has been the difference between soft, summer-ready feet and cracked heel blood ruining all my sandals.
posted by theraflu at 11:12 AM on August 2, 2011

2nding that anti-fungal cream is worth trying. It worked wonders on my badly cracked heels.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:15 AM on August 2, 2011

urea urea urea urea, piss on your feet in the shower but for real benefits go into Boots and buy Heel Balm.
The fact that I'm not 100% sure that is the name tells you how successful it is.

You will not needs an anti-fungal unless the skin actually cracks & bleeds.

so slather in the Heel Balm and encase the tooties in Cotton socks at night.

sometimes the heel balm alone is enough.

after a week, seriously do book an appointment with a podiatrist to check them out to see there is nothing else going on and to recommend a good pedicure that doesn't involve piranhas!
posted by Wilder at 11:22 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK, going off on a tangent here, but stop eating wheat gluten for a month or so, and see whether it helps. It did for me, and I did not expect it.

Further data point: I think my mom had the same kind of gluten weirdness I do, but never knew it – she had horribly scaly feet and even elbows as she got older. I was starting on the feet stuff when I made an experiment not eating wheat, and voilà, the feet thing cleared up within a few weeks, and my elbows aren't developing any problems.

It's weird, but I'm floating it as a possibility. Almost everyone eats wheat all the time, so it's difficult to sort out what it may be doing to some people.
posted by zadcat at 11:44 AM on August 2, 2011

Nthing the 'cream with urea' recommendations. Flexitol is one easily available brand, and Scholl do one too. Boots and Superdrug have their own makes as well – the key thing is to make sure the creams have a high urea content. Once you've seen off the worst of the hard skin, you can maintain smooth feet with regular sessions with a footfile and a mimsier type of lotion. And they're pricey, but medi-pedis will get you off to a flying start – a session at Shuropody transformed my horny hooves (NB – they're not the kind of pedicures that involve nail varnish).
posted by HandfulOfDust at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2011

a lot of your thinner lotions/creams contain a higher concentration of alcohols and/or esters (to thin them and make the lotions "non-greasy"), which means if your heels are actually cracked to the point of bleeding this stuff will tend to irritate them, not soothe them.

Esters and alcohols cover a broad range of ingredients, from very natural to highly synthetic. Fats and oils are esters. Many esters and fatty alcohols in skin care/cosmetics reduce greasiness while providing emolliency, occlusiveness ( forming a protective barrier that prevents drying of skin), and can reduce irritation caused by surfactants. For example, cetearyl ethylhexanoate can help hydrate skin and prevent wounds from drying out. It doesn't make sense to broadly state that alcohols and esters will tend to cause irritation, when they often do just the opposite, and are included in skincare for that reason.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:03 PM on August 2, 2011

Callus shavers scare me, but those rasp - cheese grater (Ped egg) style files work fantastically. And I agree, it almost doesn't matter what kind of lotion you use. At times when my feet have been really bad, I've put them in plastic bags, so that the lotion can't evaporate so quickly. But the key is daily maintenance.

it seemed counter-intuitive to me, but when I used to get heel cracks, i couldn't believe that the best way to treat them was to get rid of the dead skin around them. Gently remove cracked dead skin - not to the point of drawing blood or pain - but it can keep the crack from spreading or growing.
posted by lemniskate at 4:02 PM on August 2, 2011

The only thing that has helped with my dry/cracking (not bleeding) heels is Origins "Reinventing the Heel" lotion. I have to do it 3x a week. I have tried probably 20 other creams and lotions without any luck.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:29 AM on August 3, 2011

Well, I had a bad case of sandal foot and this is what I did:
* exfoliate
* scrape
* slather with either Lush's pied de pepper (main ingredient is cocoa butter); a combination of raw shea butter and coconut oil or intensive care lotion with 24 hour hydration
* socks for at least 8 hours

I only needed to exfoliate and scrape once a week but the slathering was once everyday. The amalactin and other hydroxy stuff I placed under exfoliation and was carefule to use. In a pinch, apricot scrub works as an exfoliator but so does a mixture of olive oil and sugar.
posted by jadepearl at 2:24 PM on August 3, 2011

« Older Why is my upper lip skin (yes, skin, not hair) so...   |   What is one more G worth? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.