After a long, hot summer in Georgia, some of us actually look forward to cooler weather when we can wear boots, tights, cozy warm slippers and cute, slouchy socks. But with these toasty winter foot fashions winter can also bring dry, cracked and itchy feet. And what happens? Your tights catch on dry pieces of skin on your heels, toenail cuticles, or soles, and poof – there’s a run! Socks irritate cracked heels, and nothing hurts worse than having to pick out little sock fibers from the fissures. Or calluses develop on your soles which itch and burn when encased in closed toed shoes. Why does this happen?
Common Causes of Dry Winter Feet
There are a number of reasons that feet become dry, callused and itchy during the winter. One or more causes may contribute to the condition.
Cold Weather Equals Artificial Heat: When the heat is turned on, and the windows closed, the air inside our homes and almost everywhere else we frequent on a day to day basis – schools, places of employment, stores, restaurants, the gym – loses its humidity. The result is that the skin on our bodies, and especially our extremities (feet and hands) dries out much more quickly than in the warmer, moister weather. And what develops? Scaly, dry, itchy, cracked and uncomfortable feeling feet.
Physical Stress: Even if it is cold outside, if the heat is on inside, the environment inside a shoe can become very warm, especially if you are wearing thick socks or nylon based tights which reduce the “breath”. It can reach up to 120 degrees in a closed toed shoe! This heat results in water evaporation from the skin cells, which can thicken the top layer of skin.
Skin Cleansers: Certain brands of soap can strip protective oils from the skin or if cleansers are not completely washed off irritating residues can remain that contribute to dry skin.
Medical Conditions: Diseases, and metabolism disorders, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, and dietary deficiencies including vitamin A or the essential ALA and GLA fatty acids from digestive malabsorption, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, can also instigate dry feet.
Aging: OK. So we blame everything on aging. But the hormonal and metabolic changes that do occur as we age tend to decrease turnover of skin cells, and skin’s outermost layer can become thickened. Also, as we age, thinning of the protective fat pad cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot can increase skin stress, leading to cracked, callused skin.
Treating Dry Winter Feet
At American Foot and Leg Specialists we can recommend some simple tricks and products to reverse the winter foot syndrome. The key is to hydrate the skin on your feet, remove dead cells, and regenerate cells. Some of the best ways to soothe your dry, cracked feet this winter include:
Emollient Coated Sleep Socks: Purchase specially coated socks to wear while sleeping which use the heat from your body to help soften your feet overnight.
Stimulate Exfoliation: Use a foot cream that contains alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or urea daily. These acids help slough off dead skin cells and intensify moisture retention capacity of the outer layers of the skin.
Brush Your Feet: No, not with toothpaste. Exfoliation of the dead and dry skin cells while stimulating blood flow and skin cell regeneration is key to supple skin. We recommend using a dry, natural bristled brush to gently brush your feet in a circular motion.
Smooth Flaking and Thickened Skin with a Pumice Stone: This is not newfangled technology. Basically, you use a small piece of dampened volcanic rock to rub away hardened and rough areas of the feet. Right after a shower or bath is a perfect time to use this technique. One word of caution – don’t use a pumice stone on severely cracked or bleeding heels and rough spots – it may be too painful and the skin could tear.
Nourish the Skin with Moisturizers! This is most important. Lotions and creams that include natural ingredients like coconut oil, lanolin or shea butter that won’t irritate your dry skin are a good choice. Ointments may be more effective on severely dry skin, but may be too greasy when wearing shoes. Apply the denser products at bedtime, lighter products before shoes and socks.
Maximize Moisture: Apply creams and lotions within 3 minutes after a bath or shower to trap in the moisture.
Healthy Diet: Most health issues come down to diet in some way or another. Increase your dietary intake of essential fatty acids and vitamins for sleeker, flake free skin on your feet.
If your feet have calluses, cracked skin, open wounds, or rashy, dry skin that does not improve with the above tender loving care, a visit to American Foot and Leg Specialists is recommended to rule out and treat secondary causes of dry skin, such as athlete’s foot or eczema. With four locations in Fayetteville, Stockbridge, Locust Grove and Forest Park; Atlanta Foot and Leg Specialists serves the South Atlanta Metro area including Fulton County, Cobb County, Douglass County, Fayette County, Henry County, and Clayton County.