Why Are My Toes Peeling and Stinking?

It’s not unusual for toes to peel or have a bad odor from time to time. But if it’s happening frequently or severely, it could be a sign of an underlying skin condition. Here are some potential causes and treatments for peeling, smelly toes:

Athlete’s Foot

One of the most common culprits of peeling, stinky toes is athlete’s foot. This fungal infection thrives in warm, moist environments like sweaty shoes and locker rooms. It causes scaling, peeling, redness and itching between the toes. The fungus also leads to a foul odor. Treat athlete’s foot with over-the-counter antifungal creams, medicated powders and proper hygiene. Keep your feet clean and dry, wear moisture-wicking socks and sprinkle antifungal powder in your shoes.

Psoriasis

This chronic autoimmune condition can occur anywhere on the body, including the feet. Psoriasis causes red, flaky patches and cracked, peeling skin. It can also lead to an unpleasant odor if the skin fissures become infected. Check with your dermatologist about topical ointments, light therapy and medications to treat psoriasis symptoms. Keeping feet moisturized may help minimize cracking.

Eczema

Eczema is characterized by extremely dry, sensitive skin that is prone to flaking and peeling. Rubbing and scratching eczema-affected areas like the toes can worsen peeling. The broken skin is also susceptible to odor-causing bacteria. Use gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers and itch relief creams. Avoid irritants like harsh soaps. See your doctor if symptoms don’t improve with over-the-counter treatments.

Tinea Pedis

This fungal infection, also called athlete’s foot, thrives in warm, moist places like swimming pools and locker rooms. Tinea pedis causes red, peeling skin between the toes, as well as scaling on the soles. The infection creates an environment ideal for bacteria that causes foul foot odor. Practice good foot hygiene, wear sandals in public showers, and use antifungal sprays and powders to clear up the infection. Keep your feet dry.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

This type of eczema causes deep, fluid-filled blisters to form on the palms, soles and sides of the toes. As the blisters break, the skin can peel off in chunks or flakes. Dyshidrotic eczema is often triggered by stress, seasonal allergies or irritants. Treat through moisturizing, avoiding triggers, and prescription steroid creams. Keep blisters clean and covered with bandages to prevent infection.

Fungal Nail Infection

A fungal infection in the toenails can cause a nasty odor in the toes. Fungus thrives under and inside the nails, causing them to thicken, crumble and peel away from the nail bed. Debris and bacteria collect under the nails, resulting in a bad smell. See your doctor for an oral or topical antifungal medication to clear up the infection. Keep your nails trimmed short.

Plantar Hyperkeratosis

This condition causes a thick, callus-like layer of dead skin to form on the bottoms of the feet. As this skin builds up, it cracks and peels away. Plantar hyperkeratosis often develops under a bony prominence, like the ball of the foot. Friction and pressure worsens the peeling. Use a pumice stone to gently slough off dead skin. Cushioning pads can reduce pressure points. Salicylic acid helps soften thick skin.

In most cases, peeling, smelly feet can be managed with good hygiene and over-the-counter treatments. But if symptoms persist or worsen, see your doctor to pinpoint the cause and get prescription-strength remedies. Leaving foot conditions untreated can allow infections to spread and lead to additional complications. Addressing peeling, foul-smelling toes early provides relief fast.