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What could be causing my feet to peel?

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Peeling skin

QUESTION: Dear Doctor, my feet often peel off. I am so worried about the condition. What could be the problem? Daisy.

ANSWER: Dear Daisy,
Please visit our previous article (August, 2022 Edition) about peeling skin. You will find some helpful information on skin peeling.

For now, peeling feet is not a serious health condition. It is, however, important to know why it happens to be able to treat it effectively. There are six main causes of feet peeling:

  1. Lack of hydration
    In an environment with high temperatures, the skin may dehydrate more than usual, leading to peeling or cracks.
    For example, many people in dry areas experience cracks on their heels due to this factor.
  2. Change of footwear
    Peeling can also happen if we abruptly switch to open, non-supportive footwears. This is because your feet experiences an increase in friction; something the the skin is not prepared for, thereby causing it to peel.
  3. Sunburn
    Prolonged exposure of the feet to the sun may also cause dryness, skin burns, and later peeling.
    If we go to the beach, salty water and chlorine from swimming pools may dry out our skin as well, causing it to peel off.
  4. Fungus on the feet
    Another cause of peeling is foot fungus such as exfoliate dermatitis (infection on the sole of the foot).
    In fact, there are many types of fungus that affect the feet. For instance, athletes’ feet which, in addition to peeling, may cause itchiness in the affected areas, among other symptoms.
  5. Excessive sweating may also lead to peeling.
  6. Others.
    Erythroderma, a kind of psoriasis characterized by skin redness, and flaking caused by the appearance of eczema.
    It may be dyshidrosis, a chronic dermatitis condition that affects the soles of the feet, palms and fingers.
    It is characterized by appearance of vesicles which subsequently cause peeling, and the appearance of foot cracks, especially on heels.
    These conditions can be effectively identified and treated by dermatologists.

Way forward
Drinking between one-and-a-half and two liters of water will be essential to hydrate properly.

Applying sunscreen before exposure and after sun or moisturizing cream afterwards will help maintain hydration and elasticity of the feet skin.

Remember to visit a dermatologist to diagnose and rule out possible fungal infection, psoriasis or syphilis which also cause peeling.

Answered by Dr Molino Binywasiki of Mulago National Ref. Hospital.

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