Skin peeling between the toes has several potential causes. Fungal infection, healing skin, damp environments, and underlying conditions may cause the skin between the toes to peel.
This article discusses the causes of skin peeling between the toes, treatment options, prevention strategies, and when to see a healthcare provider.
Causes for Skin Peeling Between the Toes
Fungal infection (athlete’s foot) is almost always the cause of skin peeling between the toes. You may have other conditions or develop a complication, such as cellulitis.
Also called tinea pedis, athlete’s foot is a skin infection caused by a type of fungus that feeds on old skin cells.
The fungus that causes athlete’s foot can be found in warm and damp areas like locker rooms, pools, and showers. Anyone can get tinea pedis, whether or not they are an athlete.
Possible symptoms include:
- Peeling between the toes
- Blistering or cracking of skin between the toes
- Bumps on the feet
- Raw skin
- An unpleasant odor from the skin between the toes
Skin Ulcers or Wounds
If you have had trauma between your toes (such as stepping on something sharp while barefoot) or you developed a friction blister, the skin will heal through several stages. The old skin will peel away after new skin has closed the wound.
People with diabetes may develop open sores, called diabetic ulcers, on their feet. This can happen between the toes. They may have decreased sensation due to peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) and not notice that an ulcer has developed. Diabetes can also lead to poor blood flow in the feet, which impairs healing.
Diabetes also increases the risk of fungal infection between the toes. This can further complicate the healing of ulcers.
Shoe Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis can occur on any area of the skin that comes into contact with something irritating to the skin.
There are various materials used to make shoes, including:
Several chemicals are used in the production of leather and rubber for shoes. Skin coming into contact with any of these materials can cause contact dermatitis.
Symptoms may include:
- Flaky skin
- Itchy skin
- Tender skin
- Burning sensation
Dyshidrotic eczema is a form of eczema that causes itchy blisters on the hands, feet, toes, and fingers. It is more common in people with other forms of eczema (an inflammatory skin condition that causes an itchy rash), and it often runs in families.
This form of eczema only impacts the hands and feet (including between the toes). Symptoms may include:
- Painful blisters
- Burning sensation on the skin
- Reddening of the skin
- Peeling of the skin once blisters heal and dry
Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection. It is most commonly caused by Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria. All skin has bacteria living on its surface, but a skin infection can occur when there is a crack or break in the skin.
Skin peeling between the toes is a risk factor for developing cellulitis. Also, the affected skin may peel later in the course of cellulitis.
Cellulitis can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Redness of the skin
- Inflammation of the skin
- Skin sores that grow quickly
- Skin rash that spreads quickly
- Pain in the areas affected
- Stretched, glossy or tight skin
- Skin that is warm to the touch in red areas
- Muscle aches
- Joint stiffness
As the skin heals, it may also peel and fall off.
Also called immersion foot, trench foot is a condition caused by feet being exposed to damp, cold conditions for an extended period. Trench foot was common among soldiers in World War I. They had to stand in trenches filled with water and mud for long periods.
- Blotchy skin
- Open sores
- Peeling of skin
When to See a Healthcare Provider
Contact a healthcare provider if you have peeling skin between the toes that bothers you. Seek immediate medical care for signs of cellulitis, such as hot, red, taut skin, or a rash or sores spreading or streaking up the leg or arms.
Treating skin peeling between the toes will depend on the underlying cause.
- Athlete’s foot may require treatment with a medicated powder or cream.
- Cellulitis is typically treated with antibiotics.
- Dyshidrotic eczema may be treated with topical corticosteroids, phototherapy (exposure to ultraviolet light), or oral steroids.
- Trench foot is treated with slow rewarming of the feet, pain control, and keeping the feet dry.
- Shoe contact dermatitis can be treated by avoiding whatever is causing the irritation. Medications, ointments, and a cool compress are also treatment options.
While it is not always possible to prevent all of the causes of skin peeling between the toes, some steps can prevent it:
- To prevent athlete’s foot, change socks when damp, wash your feet daily, and dry well between the toes. Wear sandals in public showers, pool areas, and gyms.
- To avoid cellulitis, keep the skin moist to avoid cracking. If the skin breaks, clean the area with soap and water. Take steps to avoid harming the skin.
- Trench foot can be prevented by keeping feet clean, dry, and warm.
- Shoe contact dermatitis can be prevented by avoiding irritants that cause symptoms.
Peeling between the toes is typically caused by a fungal infection (athlete’s foot) but can be caused by bacterial infections, underlying health conditions, and damp feet. It is important to see a healthcare provider to identify the cause of skin peeling. If left untreated, it may spread and become uncomfortable.
Treatment options vary but may include topical creams or ointments, medications, and phototherapy. Practicing good hygiene, wearing sandals in public showers, and keeping the feet warm, clean, and dry can help prevent skin peeling between the toes.
A Word From Verywell
Dealing with skin peeling between the toes can be uncomfortable. If you are worried about the symptoms you are experiencing, consider reaching out to a healthcare provider. They will be able to identify what is causing your symptoms and come up with a plan to treat them.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I be concerned about skin peeling between my toes?
Skin peeling between the toes is usually due to a fungal infection. In some cases, if left untreated, it can spread and become painful. If you are experiencing symptoms like skin peeling, consider making an appointment with a healthcare provider.
How common is athlete’s foot?
Studies suggest more than 70% of people in the United States will experience athlete’s foot at some stage in their life. But it’s not just athletes who get athlete’s foot, anyone can be affected by the condition.
Will shoe contact dermatitis go away on its own?
If the skin is no longer in contact with the substance that is causing irritation, contact dermatitis may clear up on its own. In some cases, treatments like creams or ointments may be required.