Ask The Doctor: Itchy Feet

Every summer it seems my feet peel, yet they do not itch or hurt. I’ve tried athlete’s foot creams and foot lotion at night, but am still not having any luck. Even daily exfoliation doesn’t help. I try to wear open-toed shoes and sandals all summer long, yet this doesn’t help. Why does this happen?
Answered by Dr. Sherri Greene

The most common reason for continuous peeling of the skin is a fungal infection. During the summer months when the heat and humidity rise, a condition known as Tinea Pedis, or athlete’s foot, can appear with little warning. This condition doesn’t necessarily need to itch or hurt to alert us to its presence, which is caused by dermatophytes that thrive in warm, moist places, usually occurring in between the toes and on soles of the feet.

Traditional treatments include over-the-counter topical anti-fungals or prescription-strength creams for more tenacious cases. These ointments may need to be applied continuously over several weeks. For a more natural approach, tea tree oil (applied neat or blended with a base oil), garlic oil (best applied at night and worn with socks), black walnut hulls, and apple cider vinegar foot soaks are beneficial. In my office, I have used an herbal foot soak that contains a strong antifungal herb called Spilanthes, which is combined with apple cider vinegar to make a solution.

A simple herbal remedy recommended by Stephanie Tourles in her book, Natural Foot Care: Herbal Treatments, Massage, and Exercises for Healthy Feet, consists of two teaspoons of benzoin combined with a few drops of lavender and thyme essential oils to create a tincture. Massage this mixture in completely and allow to dry. Follow with a good foot cream.

Some of the other possible causes for peeling skin on the feet include: dehydration, other inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or poor circulation (more common in the elderly).

Most people don’t realize that diet plays an important role in resolving many of the discomforts that we experience in the body, as diet is a tool to bring balance back to the body. When addressing a fungal infection, it is key to reduce all sugars and to focus on consuming whole, fresh organic vegetables; low glycemic grains; and for non-vegetarians, hormone-free, grass-fed sources of protein.

As a holistic practitioner, I truly believe in looking at the body as a whole—mind, body, and spirit. The body is a messenger that sends us information on what may be out of balance in our lives. To look at this through a metaphorical lens, a question to pose to oneself would be, “What might my feet be telling me about my life right now?” Are you being asked to shed or clear some issue or belief that is surfacing? This approach in no way suggests that you should ignore the physical symptom or not treat this condition, but to view your skin’s condition as means into your healing journey with the benefit of accelerated physical healing.

Dr. Sherri Greene specializes in holistic podiatry and finds that the feet are a pathway into healing the whole body. She has a private practice in New York City.