A 5-Step Routine to Soften Your Feet Overnight, According to Dermatologists

woman dipping feet into pool


Dry feet are one of those universal issues that truly no one is immune to. Even if your complexion is dewy and glowing and the skin on your body is plump and hydrated, your feet can often be the Achille's heel (pun intended) when it comes to perpetually dry skin. Why? The epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) on the feet contains an extra layer–known as the stratum lucidum—making this skin thicker than elsewhere on your body, says board-certified dermatologist Ramya Garlapati, MD.

The skin can also be even thicker and drier on the heels because they are weight-bearing areas, she adds. Finally, "There are no oil glands or hair follicles on the bottom of the foot. There's less lubrication and the area is more prone to hard skin," says board-certified podiatric surgeon Suzanne Levine, DPM. All that's to say that there are a variety of reasons why your feet and heels can end up hard, dry, and even cracked. But that doesn't mean there aren't proven ways to soften your feet fast.

Getting cracked feet soft and smooth will take some dedicated TLC, but there are some easy, fast things that can make a big difference practically overnight. Ahead, two dermatologists and a podiatric surgeon share exactly how to make your feet soft fast.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Hadley King is an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
  • Dr. Ramya Garlapti is a board-certified dermatologist and the co-founder of Skin Medicinals.
  • Dr. Suzanne Levine is a board-certified podiatric surgeon and aesthetic podiatrist in New York City, and the co-author of My Feet Are Killing Me.

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Start With a Warm-Water Soak

"Soak your feet every day in lukewarm water, about 100 degrees, for 10 minutes," suggests Dr. Levine. (Overly hot H2O can end up drying out the skin even further, hence the lukewarm part of things.)

Add 1/2 cup of Epsom salts to your foot bath; these make the skin more porous and better to absorb moisturizer after the fact, she adds. To that point, apply a thick moisturizer immediately afterwards. The warm water will soften the skin and a rich cream or balm will help to lock in and seal moisture.

02 of 05

Use a Physical Exfoliant—But Avoid Those Metal Foot Files

An effective exfoliating product or treatment will help to recess a build-up of excessively thick skin, also known as calluses. "Exfoliation tends to be particularly helpful for the feet because there can be a thick layer of dead skin," Dr. King explains. "Because of this, I recommend a combination of chemical and physical exfoliation."

Physical exfoliation options include pumice stones, foot scrubs, and exfoliating brushes; Dr. Levine advises against those mega-popular metal foot files. While they admittedly deliver very satisfying, instantaneous results when used to shave off dead skin, Dr. Levine says cuts (and subsequent infections) from these tools are far too common to make these tools worthwhile.

So whether you opt for a pumice stone or a foot scrub, just make sure to do so after you've soaked your feet in warm water for a few minutes. The water softens the skin, making it easier to remove.

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Layer On a Chemical Exfoliant

To exfoliate dead, dry skin, all of the dermatologists we spoke with suggested layering on a chemical exfoliant. A few good options include salicylic acid, urea, or lactic acid.

"These exfoliants help to loosen the attachments between skin cells, allowing them to gently slough off," Dr. Garlapti explains. You can either use a serum containing these ingredients that you may already have for your face or body skin, or try a peeling foot mask such as the viral Baby Foot peel.

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Moisturize and Seal With an Occlusive Moisturizer Like Vaseline

Removing dry skin is one thing, but it's also imperative to add much-needed moisture back in. (And remember, if you are exfoliating your feet via a scrub or tool, be sure to always use moisturizer after.) Thicker, more occlusive creams and balms will be best at delivering and sealing in this moisture.

Dr. Levine, who says you should be moisturizing your feet once per day, recommends formulas with shea butter, as well as petroleum jelly (a.k.a., Vaseline or Aquaphor). To that point, you could even try "slugging" for your feet: Apply a moisturizer, then a coat of petroleum jelly to really lock it in, and pop on a pair of socks overnight.

05 of 05

Trap Everything In With Silicone Socks

Silicone socks are essentially wearable patches that cover the heel of the foot in order to trap moisture. If you're dealing with next-level dryness, Dr. Levine says that silicone patches and/or silicone-lined socks can help by moistening the skin and diminishing fissures. For severely cracked feet, follow the routine we've discussed above, then immediately put on a pair of silicone socks to trap everything in overnight while you sleep.

As an alternative to silicone socks, our experts say you can also just wrap your feet in Saran wrap (which you probably already have at home) after exfoliating and moisturizing, then top it off with a pair of regular socks to hold everything in place.

  • How can I hydrate my feet overnight?

    A pair of cotton socks is your BFF. Slather on lots of moisturizer, then pop on the socks to keep the moisturizer from rubbing off onto your sheets and help it better penetrate into the skin.

  • What causes extremely dry feet?

    A combination of external factors (cold weather, dry, indoor heat) and biological differences in the skin of the foot contribute. There are also some medical conditions , such as diabetes and Raynaud phenomenon, that can cause dry heels, says Dr. Levine.

  • How do you soften extremely dry feet?

    Try all of the aforementioned tips. Start by soaking feet in warm water, then manually exfoliating, and finally layering a lotion containing a chemical exfoliant underneath a heavy-duty moisturizer.

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