When feet and palms turn yellow, it could mean quite a number of health conditions. Some may be serious while others may only pose an esthetic problem.
Yellowing of the skin at the bottom of feet is often associated with diabetes, liver problems, and calluses. However, the problem can extend to other parts of the body, mostly the palms and eyes. Toenails can also turn yellow especially when there is a deficiency of some important vitamins. In babies, it could easily point to jaundice.
Feet bear your whole body weight. That means that they endure a lot of pressure. This often leads to various skin issues around the heels and generally at the bottom of feet. A common observation, especially in people who use shoes with a hard insole, is a thick discolored skin on the bottom of feet. This means that the problem is not really that serious.
However, it is also possible that the yellowing is a symptom of a more serious underlying health problem that may need to be checked up.
According to the Russian Open Medical Journal, a yellowish discoloration of the palms and skin on feet is a common symptom associated with various conditions including carotenodermia, xanthodermia, carotenemia and hypercarotenemia. Patients may also be suffering from diabetes, thyroid disorders, and liver disease.
But these are not always the reason behind the symptom. Here’s a discussion on the possible causes for discoloring bottom of feet.
Both corns and calluses can form on the skin of your feet due to the pressure exerted on them by your body. They form as a result of the thickening of the skin that overlies the bony prominence.
When they form on toes, they are called corns. These thick layers of skin can cause pain when you walk or wear tightly fitting shoes. In fact, both corns and calluses at the bottom of feet may be caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes.
According to Denise B. Freeman, D.P.M. of the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery, Des Moines University, corns and calluses present as a sign of mechanical injury to the lower extremities usually occasioned by poorly fitting shoes, wearing loose socks or those whose threads irritate the bottom of feet and toes.
- The thick layer of skin will present as white or yellow in color.
- In some cases, the yellow calluses on the bottom of feet are extremely dry skin that may appear flaky.
- Both corns and calluses are painful though the former is more painful than the latter.
This problem may be less bothersome and will only require treatment if it is an aesthetic issue. Regular exfoliation at home can help reduce the thick discolored skin on your feet. Using moleskin pads and OTC salicylic acid callus removers can help relieve the pain and accelerate the healing process.
2. Diabetes mellitus
Although the relationship between the yellowish-red or orange skin color and blood carotene levels is controversial according to a publication in the Indian Journal of Endicrinology and Metabolism, such discoloration is sometimes evident in patients of diabetes mellitus.
If you have diabetes, you are likely to notice this change in the color of your skin on palms and feet. “…it may also be associated with end products of advanced glycation.”
People who observe this discoloration are advised to see a doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment. Diabetes is a serious health problem that needs proper management and care.
When you have jaundice, the whites of your eyes and the skin will start yellowing. This is caused by the abnormally high bile pigment called bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin results from the breakdown of old red blood cells to form a yellow byproduct. This condition often points to a liver problem that may need proper diagnosis and treatment.
Liver disease reduces its ability to remove and modify bilirubin for excretion. Related signs and symptoms of jaundice include:
- Dark urine
- Pale stool
- Abdominal pain
The yellow pigment, when not properly excreted will build-up in your blood and leak into the skin. If you have jaundice, you are likely to get a yellow skin around your feet and other parts of the body as well.
The presence of a large amount of carotene in the blood can also result in the yellow discoloration of palms and feet. The excessive intake of carotene sourced in the diet is the main reason for the change in color of your heels, the bottom of feet and palms. Excessive eating of the following foods can lead to this symptom.
- Sweet potatoes
Feeding on too much of these leads to the characteristic yellow or orange color due to the deposition of the pigment in the tissues. This problem is highly evident in babies who consume too much carrot juice.
5. Some foods
As already noted above, some foods can load your system with carotene and result in the yellowing of the skin. When this is the cause of a yellow or orange skin on the bottom of feet, you may experience the same elsewhere on your body, including a yellow tongue, palms, eyes etc.
Too many carrots or carrot juice can change the tint of your skin as well as stool to yellow or light orange. Other than carrots, the following foods that can cause carotenemia are pepper, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash, and oranges.
Iron is an important nutrient in the production of hemoglobin, a molecule that carries oxygen. Its deficiency can lead to “decreased oxygen delivery to the entire body and may include: Being pale or having yellow “sallow” skin.”
If your symptom is being caused by anemia, you may experience other signs including lethargy, hair loss, brittle nails, headaches, unexplained weakness, and clay or ice cravings.
Dietary remedies can help get rid of yellow feet and palms that are caused by anemia. Your doctor may advice you to include plenty of beef, pork, liver, fish, leafy green vegetables, legumes and iron rich pastas in your diet to remedy the problem.
When you notice unusual signs such as discoloration on your feet and toenails, it is important that you see a podiatrist for diagnosis and treatment. Foot problems can be vast and calluses or corns can be managed with the help of a specialist.
If the problem is not restricted to the bottom of your feet only, see your general doctor for tests that will determine the cause of the symptoms. Possible tests that will be carried out include:
- Beta-carotene levels test
- Bilirubin test
- Liver function tests
- Blood count
- Tests for fungal infections
Your doctor may interview you to determine if your diet is the possible cause of the discoloration of your skin, palms and lower extremities.
Yellow feet and palms in babies
When a baby’s skin turns yellow or orange, it can be a source of worry for many parents. The most common areas you will notice this change are the cheeks, palms, feet and eyes.
In newborns, jaundice is the likeliest cause because of too much bilirubin in the baby’s blood. This symptom will last for just about 5 days. In cases of mild jaundice, the baby may not show severe discoloration. It may be limited to the eyes and upper part of the body.
However, when the feet and palms are unusually discolored, it could be severe jaundice. This should be taken seriously as it can cause brain damage.
Another possible reason for the discoloration in children is lycopenemia. It is a condition similar to carotenemia because it is caused by dietary intakes. If children feed on plenty of foods rich in lycopene for quite some time, they are likely going to develop a yellowish discoloration on feet.
Foods that cause lycopenemia include pink grapefruits, watermelon, tomatoes, apricots, and guava. The good news is that this condition is harmless and there’s nothing to worry about. Reducing these foods in your child’s diet is likely going to reverse the discoloration.
Yellowing toenails and fungal infections
Discoloration of toenails is more of a symptom than a cause in itself. The most common cause is a fungal infection or respiratory diseases. Your nailbeds will begin to turn yellow and the skin on your feet will also start to discolor.
Fungal infections can easily cause black toenails but these can sometimes start as yellowish parts on the skin. Stunted nails, weakening and breakage may also accompany the problem. The skin may also start to thicken and discolor to a yellow-brown discoloration. When this is the cause, you may start to experience a foul smell from your feet.
Treatment and getting rid of foot discoloration
Treatments and remedies must be specific to eliminate the cause of the symptom. Before you try to get rid of yellow feet, you need to first identify the cause then treat it. Medical treatments may include the following:
- For anemia, nutritional supplements such as iron, vitamin B12, folate and other iron-rich foods can help get rid of the yellow discoloration on your feet.
- To treat jaundice, your doctor may decide to increase iron in your blood or to improve oxygen supply in the body. Phototherapy or a special light treatment may also be used for the case of newborn jaundice to get rid of the excess bilirubin. In adults, acute viral hepatitis may need to be treated in order for the yellowing of palms and feet to go away.
- Surgical treatment can also be used to heal the problem if it is caused by a blocked bile duct.
- Patients with yellow toenails may be suffering from a fungal infection. A topical anti-fungal medication can be applied to the affected area to get rid of it.
- If the symptoms are caused by a diabetes problem, your doctor will come up with a treatment plan for you. In some cases, you may need other healthcare professionals such as a nutritionist, an endocrinologist, an eye doctor and a foot doctor to manage the problem.
What can you do at home?
For most people, corns and calluses will disappear when the pressure causing them stops. If the skin is too thick, your doctor may need to perform an excision to shave off the excess dead cells.
According to WebMD, most doctors will advise you to use an OTC salicylic acid remedy to heal and get rid of corns and calluses.
Moleskin pads can also help relieve the pressure on your feet, which makes them easy to manage and heal. For all these, you may not need to attend medical appointments. Instead, you can apply them at home for gradual healing. Here are more home remedies to try:
Epsom salt soak
One of the best ways to remove a thick skin on your feet is to soak in a warm Epsom salt solution. It will soften your feet and make it a lot easier to scrub the tough skin off.
Put hot water in a tub and add a handful of the salt. Stir thoroughly. Soak your feet for about 15 minutes and then scrub the area with a pumice stope. Wash your feet afterward. You can repeat this remedy twice a week to get rid of the yellow calluses on the bottom of your feet.
Baking soda is also a good natural exfoliant. In a tub of warm water, add 4 tablespoons of baking soda and stir well. Soak your feet in the solution for 10 minutes and start scrubbing with a pumice stone. Rinse and moisturize when done. Repeat this treatment 2-3 times a week to get rid of yellow calluses on your feet faster.
 Sandeep Julka et al (2013): Yellow Palms and Soles: A rare skin manifestation in diabetes mellitus https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3830339/
 American Society of Hematology: Iron Deficiency Anemia http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/Iron-Deficiency.aspx
 WebMD: Jaundice in Newborns (Hyperbilirubinemia) https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/tc/jaundice-in-newborns-hyperbilirubinemia-topic-overview#1