Why Are My Toes Peeling and Stinking?

If you’ve noticed your toes peeling and smelling bad, you’re not alone. This uncomfortable problem is more common than you may think. Here are some potential causes and treatments for peeling, smelly toes.

Causes

Fungal Infection
One of the most common culprits behind peeling, smelly toes is a fungal infection called athlete’s foot. This contagious condition thrives in warm, moist environments like swimming pools, gyms and showers. The fungus causes itching, redness, scaling and peeling between the toes. It also leads to an unpleasant odor. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the sole of the foot.

Dry, Cracked Skin
Environmental factors like cold, dry air can cause dry, cracked skin on the toes. When skin is excessively dry it can peel. Bacteria and fungi thrive in these cracks leading to odor. This problem worsens in the winter when indoor heating dries the air. Dry skin conditions like eczema can also contribute to peeling, cracked toes.

Poor Hygiene
Failing to properly clean and dry between the toes creates an environment for fungi and bacteria to flourish. Dirt, debris and moisture get trapped leading to peeling, smelly toes. Wearing tight, non-breathable shoes and socks creates excessive perspiration which fuels the problem. Going barefoot in public showers or pools exposes feet to contagious fungi.

Psoriasis
This common chronic skin condition causes thick, scaly, red patches on the body. Psoriasis frequently affects the hands and feet, including toes. The buildup of skin cells from psoriasis can lead to peeling, cracked toes that are vulnerable to secondary fungal and bacterial infections. The odor results from these infections colonizing the damaged skin.

Diabetes
High blood sugar from uncontrolled diabetes provides an ideal breeding ground for fungus and bacteria on the feet. This makes diabetics more prone to fungal toenail infections and athlete’s foot leading to peeling, smelly toes. Peripheral neuropathy nerve damage from diabetes also causes dry, cracked skin that’s susceptible to infections.

Treatments

  • Keep feet clean and dry, especially between the toes. Change socks regularly to avoid moisture buildup.
  • Apply antifungal creams and powders to affected areas. Over-the-counter treatments include miconazole, clotrimazole and tolnaftate. Natural remedies like tea tree oil may also help.
  • Disinfect shower floors and wear flip flops in public facilities to prevent contagious infections.
  • Apply moisturizing foot creams and petroleum jelly to hydrate dry, cracked toes.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks and shoes made of breathable materials. Avoid tight hosiery and footwear.
  • Soak feet in a vinegar solution to fight odor-causing bacteria.
  • Use a pumice stone to gently remove thick, dead skin. Don’t aggressively peel skin.
  • See a dermatologist for prescription medications. Oral antifungals or steroid creams may be needed for severe cases.
  • Properly manage diabetes and psoriasis to prevent associated toe problems.

Simple hygiene and topical treatments can often remedy peeling, smelly toes. But if symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important to see a podiatrist or dermatologist. Ignoring the problem can allow infections to spread leading to pain, nail damage and potential foot complications.