Dermatologists explain everything you need to know about this trend, including what glycolic acid is, its benefits, and the potential side effects of using it on your feet.
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TikTok True or False: Does Glycolic Acid Work to Fix Dry, Cracked Feet?
Credit: Unsplash, Alex Azabache

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Talking about dry, cracked feet admittedly isn't the most glamorous activity, but as temperatures get warmer and people begin to swap booties for sandals, scaly heels and rough toes become a common concern for some. It's even become a hot topic on TikTok, where users are going viral for videos demonstrating how they use glycolic acid to soothe dry skin on their feet. (Related: Some TikTokers Are Swapping Shampoo for Dish Soap — But Is That a Good Idea?)

TikTok user @calistatee posted a video, which has amassed nearly 500,000 likes, explaining the benefits of glycolic acid for dry feet, prompting commenters to ask more about how it works. She went on to post another video (that also went viral) of her foot-care routine, which involves applying The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution on a cotton round before swiping it on her feet and following up with a moisturizer. Afterward, her feet look significantly softer and more hydrated.

To back up a bit, the causes of dry, cracked feet include genetics, dry skin, psoriasis, age, and even chronic standing on your feet, explains Christina Lee Chung, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia. No matter what the cause, if you're someone who feels like all the moisturizer in the world can't soothe your rough feet, you might consider incorporating glycolic acid into your foot-care routine based on recent TikTok before-and-after clips.

It turns out, applying products that contain glycolic acid to dry feet is a legit way to help soothe the skin and prevent future cracking, confirm dermatologists. Ahead, learn more about this trend, including what exactly glycolic acid is and how to use it to achieve soft, sandal-ready feet. Plus, find out if there are any potential side effects you should know about before giving it a try.

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliating ingredient that offers a range of skin-care benefits. A quick chemistry lesson: There are two types of chemical exfoliating ingredients: beta hydroxy acids and alpha hydroxy acids. Glycolic acid falls into the alpha hydroxy acid category, according to Hadley King, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist. "Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are used for chemical exfoliation of the skin," she says. "They dissolve the bonds that hold dull, dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, so the skin will gently shed, revealing smoother, brighter skin underneath."

In addition to exfoliation, glycolic acid can help address acne breakouts and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, says Brendan Camp, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. You can find glycolic acid on the ingredient list of many different skin-care products, including cleansers, toners, serums, and moisturizers, he adds.

Does using glycolic acid for dry cracked feet work?

Applying a skin-care product that contains glycolic acid on your feet is an effective method to help you achieve smoother, softer skin, according to experts. "Glycolic acid products are my go-to to maintain smooth, healthy feet," says Dr. Chung. The chemical exfoliation helps remove dead skin, revealing softer skin that's less likely to crack, explains Dr. King. (Related: How to Prevent and Deal with Sweaty Feet, According to Podiatrists)

When shopping for skin-care products to help with dry, cracked feet, anything with glycolic acid in its formula can work, says Dr. Camp, adding, "[products] that allow for more prolonged exposure or contact with the skin may be more effective." So, instead of applying a cleanser with glycolic acid that you have to rinse off, you'll want to stick to a leave-on formula, such as a toner, he explains.

It's also important to apply a moisturizing product "to help repair the skin's barrier" after using a product containing glycolic acid on your feet, adds Dr. Camp. After moisturizing, you can also put on socks to help trap and seal in the moisture. It's Dr. Chung's favorite thing to do after using glycolic acid on her feet, she says.

Is using glycolic acid for dry, cracked feet safe?

The side effects of using glycolic acid are no different than what you'd expect from introducing any new skin-care ingredient into your routine, and that's simply potential irritation. "Since it is technically an acid, glycolic acid could result in mild skin irritation, but otherwise, over-the-counter glycolic acid products are generally very safe to use on the feet," says Dr. Chung.

One way to avoid potential irritation is to do a patch test, which involves testing the product on a small area of skin and waiting 48 hours to see if any signs of redness, rash, or irritation occur. You should also use the products according to the recommended directions on the label, says Dr. Camp.

Glycolic acid can soothe dry, cracked feet: true or false?

TikTok True or False: Does Glycolic Acid Work to Fix Dry, Cracked Feet? Reveal: True
Credit: Unsplash, Alex Azabache

Ultimately, you can consider this viral TikTok trend a win. The benefits of using glycolic acid on dry, cracked feet are legit, according to experts. Applying a product that includes the exfoliating ingredient might be just what you need to unveil smooth, soft, and moisturized skin that's flip-flop ready. If you have any concerns, be sure to consult with a dermatologist to get the best advice for you.