After a summer in sandals, our heels are looking a bit worse for wear – think cracked and hard and you'll be along the right lines. So before we swaddle them in socks and boots for the next six months, we decided we'd get our tootsies in tip-top condition with an at-home foot peel.
Everyone from Beauty Pie to French pharmacy brand SVR, via feet expert Footner sell these exfoliating socks, which use acids to slough off dead skin and reveal the silky-soft feet beneath, but are the dramatic effects of at-home foot peels a good thing for skin, and why are you shedding bits of your sole as you about your day? We’ve got answers.
The foot peel pros
They’re low effort
All you have to do is slip your feet into the gel-filled socks, strap them on and chill. There’s no sloughing, filing or elbow grease to speak of – instead, an exfoliating acid blend begins to nibble at your dead, dry and hard skin. “They break down the outer layers of hard dead skin, kick-starting a peeling process which then encourages new skin cells to form," explains aesthetic doctor and founder of Clinicbe Dr Barbara Kubicka .
Most at-home foot peels contain an alpha hydroxy acid solution that typically includes glycolic and lactic acid and very often beta hydroxy salicylic acid too. Most manufacturers include hydrating agents such as glycerin, vitamin E and nourishing plant oils to maximise the socks’ softening potential.
They’re very effective
The skin on our feet can be the toughest, thickest and most calloused on our body. As such, thorough foot exfoliation can seem like a mammoth task when embarked upon physically with a scrub or file and often we need to go in again two days later, but a chemical peel breaks down the top layers of your skin with efficiency than other methods rarely match.
As consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk explains, exfoliating acids such as those found in the AHA gel of a foot peel "work to loosen the ‘cement’ between dead skin cells to smooth and brighten dull skin." Your body will gradually do away with surface dead skin cells naturally, but given that feet, in particular, are so prone to hard skin buildup, a leg-up by way of a foot peel can have dramatic effects where softening, smoothing and dead skin shedding is concerned.
They’re incredibly satisfying
Are you the type of person who relishes plucking out your chin hairs or squeezing a spot? Exfoliating socks were made for you. Watching your old, grey skin peel off in sheets is gross but oh so glorious, and you just know that velvety, good as new heels are lying beneath. Look up the #footner hashtag on Instagram to see what I’m talking about. If you’re eating, or simply not one of these morbidly curious people, don’t go there. Otherwise, scroll and peel to your heart’s delight.
They make your feet feel like clouds
Once the peeling process is complete (we’ll come onto that), your feet will be so buff you won’t recognise them. Those cheesy heels, flaky toes and rough soles will be a thing of the past. Your feet will be reincarnated as soft, bright, light feeling things and you'll feel no shame whipping off your socks at yoga.
The effects are long-lasting
That smugly soft sensation will endure for weeks, nay, months if you’re lucky. Most experts recommend using chemical foot peels once every month max, but you’ll likely get away silky footed for around two to three months, depending on your rate of skin cell turnover. In that vein, given that all you did was put your foot in a sock and sit tight for an episode of your favourite box set, possibly with wine, this is as low maintenance as grooming gets. That said, it’s not all smooth sailing...
The scaly sock cons
Your feet are shut in a bag for at least an hour
Once your feet are ensconced in the peel, it's fairly difficult to walk, so you need to sit down while they get to work. This could be an enormous positive or a debilitating downside, depending on your P.O.V and responsibilities. If you’ve got toddlers on your tail, errands to run or simply can’t afford a sixty-minute window on the sofa, you may want to save your personal foot peel appointment for another day.
Results aren’t immediate
If you’re expecting instant pedicure results, you may be disappointed. Your dead skin won’t start flaking off for at least three days. Once it begins, however, there’s no going back. You need to avoid moisturising your feet for a week or two post-peel as well, because this will make the skin stick back to your feet, making the peeling process pointless.
You’ll need a strong stomach
We're not exaggerating when we say your feet will shed like a snake. It begins with little flakes in hard areas and culminates in inch-long sections of skin peeling off. You might find it inside your socks at the end of the day, or see a flurry at the foot of your bed in the morning. If you have plans to wear sandals in the coming week, hold off on the peel. Similarly, if you go to yoga or any other bare-footed exercise, proceed with caution as your feet will be flaking everywhere.
They can make feet more sensitive
In the same manner, as a face peel, exfoliating acids aren’t for everyone, particularly if you’re suffering from a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis or have sensitive skin to start with. Don’t go there if you have a cut, blister or sore either. Even if you don’t have any skin prior skin issues, foot peels can make skin generally more vulnerable to rubbing and reactivity, so treat post-peel skin with extra care.
If you're pregnant or have diabetes (which also affects feet) you need to seek advice from your doctor about using a foot peel. In pregnancy, they're not advised because your skin could be more sensitive to the ingredients.
They’re a problem for the planet
Technically most exfoliating foot socks are single-use plastic bags. Given that microbeads, wet wipes and cotton buds have all been subject to regulation around reducing plastic waste, the likes of non-biodegradable sheet masks look dubious from an environmental point of view. They’re not everyday products, so using them every two months or so shouldn’t weigh heavily on your otherwise green conscience, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Foot peels and the results they deliver have naturally gone viral on TikTok. Trigger warning: you'll either find this next video deeply satisfying or utterly gross (or both), with related hashtags having notched up millions and millions of views on the app.
With glycolic and lactic acids, natural fruit extracts of grapefruit, orange and lemon, plus sweet almond and coconut extract, these soothe and exfoliate your feet in one sweep. These work quickly, with the peeling process kicking in on day four.
To put these on you cut the tops off the plastic sock bags, slide your feet inside and fasten around the ankle with the attached sticky tab to keep them in place. These are have one of the longer treatment times for exfoliating socks; you have to leave on for an hour and a half for the acids to get to work.
Our tester didn’t notice anything at first but after four days her feet developed a tight sheen like a snake about to shed. After around a week, they started to flake in a more gentle way than other exfoliating socks; think gentle snowfall rather than a blizzard. These are a good option if you’re new to foot peels, but if you like the pick factor of pulling the dead skin off in swathes go for Patchology’s offering. Overall the effect was the same though – baby soft feet top and bottom.
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Our tester told us at first not a lot happened when they tried this, but after three days the flakes started and by day five it was a blizzard thanks to the salicylic and glycolic acid peeling ingredients By day seven their feet were transformed from dry to soft and supple. The 16 botanical and fruit extracts made their feet felt surprisingly hydrated after the shedding, they told us.
This peel was shortlisted in the Body Hero category of our Beauty and Wellness Awards 2020 , with our tester saying they saw a huge improvement in the condition of their feet after using. They're not the easiest of booties to put on, with tapes to wrap around your ankle, and because they're so generous with product you really do need to sit still in them rather than attempt to walk around, but the results speak for themsevles, with skin shedding off about six days leater for ultra-soft nourished feet. They're made with a cocktail of acids including lactic, salicylic and glycolic to brighten (who knew we needed brighter feet?), get rid of rough patches and dissolve dead skin cells.
They're a bit more fiddly than some of the sock peels we tried because you have to pour the magic mixture into the boot yourself, rather than it being soaked in it like a sheet mask, but again, it's worth the minor faff for the end result.
Possibly the best-known foot peel brand in the UK, these are impressively peely – if these don’t prize away barnacle-like hard skin, you’ll need to call in the pros. They have little adhesive stickers over the bridge of your foot to make sure they fit snugly and you can put your own socks on top to keep them firmly in place (handy if you simply must get up for some reason). We found these to be the fastest-working of all the exfoliating socks we tried. After only three days our skin started peeling off, whereas with others we were waiting until day five or so.
They include mandelic, lactic and glycolic acid. Mandelic acid is the main ingredient and is the most gentle of the exfoliating acids. It has a larger particle size, which means that it doesn’t penetrate as deeply, so is more tolerable to those with sensitive skin. Despite this, these were impressive in their ability to shed skin at a fast rate.
From French pharmacy brand SVR, these include a cocktail of different ingredients to the other sock peels we tried, including plant-based actives such as rockweed, green tea, ivy, horsetail and clematis extracts. Acid-wise they have just lactic acid.
While our tester's feet did peel, it was certainly less dramatic than some of the other exfoliating socks we tried. More of gentle flaking than the peelable swathers we saw from Footner. What they lack in acids, they more than make up for in hydrating ingredients including squalane, castor oil and urea to infuse moisture and soften feet.
These sockies contain a trio of glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid to get to work on dead skin, working their magic in about ten days. They weren't as dramatic as some of the other socks we tried, with some gentle peeling at day seven (a bit like when you used to peel PVA glue off your hands at primary school) but less of the big sections of skin to peel off. While the peeling was nothing to shout about, our feet did stay soft for a good two months, so these boots certainly did something right!
The fruit extracts squeezed into this foot mask are numerous (peach leaf, cherry, kiwi and banana, to name but a few), but it’s really just the acid you’re after and these AHA boots offer a light peel. We'd recommend wearing for two hours to maximise the results because we only saw a gentle shedding after wearing them for one hour. The effect isn’t quite lizard-like, but your feet will be left smooth and soft nonetheless.
While Footner delivered the most dramatic shedding, when it comes to results and value for money, Beauty Pie's exfoliating boots come out top. They may not have made sheets of skin flake off, but the result was just as soft and smooth (without the dramatics) and the budget price makes them a clear winner.
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