What are small white bumps on my feet? What about bumps that appear on the bottom of feet? These are usually indicative of harmless conditions such as molluscum contagiosum, but they may be a symptom of serious problems such as basal cell carcinoma. This article explores common causes of white bumps on feet.
What Causes White Bumps on Feet and Ankles
The skin on the side and top of feet – including the ankles - is usually relatively smooth and flat, and presence of small bumps in this area may be a sign of an underlying skin condition or disease. Among the conditions that can present themselves in the form of lumps on the top of feet are:
1. Keratosis PilarisKeratosis pilaris is yet another skin condition that can manifest itself in small white bumps on feet. Sometimes referred to as “goose bumps” for their resemblance to the bumps you get when cold or scared (e.g., when watching a horror movie), the bumps have a typical rough, spike-like feel. The bumps are usually painless and may sometime appear red in color, or get itchy.
The bumps occur when keratin, a hard, protective protein naturally found in the skin, builds up in the hair follicles. As a result, the skin pores get clogged, leading to the characteristic hard plugs in the affected areas of the skin. As the small plugs widen the pores, the skin progressively takes on a rough, spotty appearance. The term ‘chicken skin” is sometimes used to describe this look.
There is a hereditary predisposition to keratosis pilaris. It has been found to accompany other skin conditions associated with dry skin, such as ichthyosis and eczema (atopic dermatitis). For the same reason, it tends to get worse during winter when humidity levels typically get to their lowest.
Home Remedies to Alleviate Keratosis Pilaris SymptomsKeratosis pilaris has no cure. On a good note though, it is harmless, non-contagious, and usually goes away on its own without treatment. In the majority of cases, the bumps will be entirely gone by 30 years of age. If bothersome, however, you may find the following home treatment measures and lifestyle adjustments effective for the white bumps on feet:
- Moisturize the feet frequently. Use a high-quality moisturizer such as Eucerin or Cetaphil. Some skin care experts recommend using a cream that contains salicylic acid, urea, or lactic acid for more effective treatment. The latter should however not be used for children.
- Use mild soaps or non-soap cleansers. Ordinary soaps may dry your skin further, consequently worsening the condition.
- Exfoliate the feet by rubbing it gently with a pumice stone or an exfoliating foam. This helps to remove the hard, bumpy skin and restore the skin’s natural texture to some extent.
- Avoid hot showers and baths. Lukewarm water is recommended for your bathing needs as it is less harsh on the skin.
- Invest in a humidifier. This helps to keep the air around your room moist, which may in turn help to combat the skin clogging effects of excess keratin.
2. Piezogenic Pedal PapulesWhite bumps on heels of feet that get noticed when pressure is exerted on your legs, such as when standing, may be indicative of a condition known as Piezogenic pedal papules, or simply Piezogenic papules. They occur on the feet, but a few cases involving the hands have been reported. On the feet, they typically appear on the right, left, or rear side of the heels while on the hands, they appear on the wrists.
The bumps occur as a result of herniation of subcutaneous fat through the dermis (the second layer of your skin) due to pressure exertion. The herniated fat shows as small fatty lumps on the lining of the heels when standing, or when pressure is applied on the feet.
Piezogenic papules are seen more commonly in young people, especially athletes, and tend to be more prevalent among women than men. Individuals with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a congenital connective tissue disorder, are at higher risk of suffering from the condition and so are people who spend lots of time standing. Classic examples are hairdressers and shop attendants.
Piezogenic Pedal Papules TreatmentWhile they are an aesthetic concern, the white bumps on feet characteristic of the condition are usually painless and harmless, and treatment is not necessary. Some people, however, experience some pain when standing. In such a case, you will want to take some measures aimed at relieving the pain such as:
- Refrain from spending too much time standing, if possible.
- Get adequate rest.
- Elevate your feet with a pillow when sitting down to take pressure off the heels.
- Shed some weight. Weight can contribute to the development of these feet bumps.
If these lifestyle changes still don’t give you the much-needed relief, you may want to talk to a podiatrist. The intervention measures available for the bumps include:
- Heel cups. These are placed snugly in your shoes to take some pressure off the heels and thus relieve pain.
- Surgical excision. Surgical removal of the bumps can be adopted when other conservative treatment options fail to yield the desired results.
- Compression stockings. Your podiatrist may recommend compression stockings to prevent future incidents of herniation and the associated white bumps on feet.
3. Molluscum ContagiosumA skin condition known as molluscum contagiosum can also explain the appearance of itchy white bumps on feet (or bumps that itch like crazy as some people will put it). Molluscum contagiosum virus (poxvirus) infection is responsible for the condition.
Molluscum contagiosum is characterized by small, round, raised bumps which may be white, flesh-colored (red), or pink in color. Also known as Mollusca, these bumps have a characteristic pitted, or dimple-like center, which gives them a doughnut shape. They usually feel firm and smooth to touch and vary in size from pinhead size to the size of a pencil eraser.
Molluscum contagiosum lesions are usually painless, but they can get itchy and swollen. Allergic reaction to the virus is thought to cause the itching sensation and usually resolves with cortisone cream application or taking Claritin orally. As for the swelling and redness, it is the result of the body’s attempt to ward off the viral infection.
Molluscum contagiosum can affect any part of the body with the face, neck, torso, arms, legs, and groin being common trouble spots. The bumps hardly occur on the bottom (soles) of the feet and palms of the hands. They can occur alone or in clusters.
How Molluscum Contagiosum Is TransmittedMolluscum contagiosum virus is spread easily from one person to another through skin contact. This can happen through sexual intercourse, contact with infected hands (which have touched the bumps), and contact with infected materials such as towels.
How to Get Rid Of Molluscum Contagiosum Bumps on FeetIf molluscum contagiosum is to blame for the white bumps on feet, you don’t have to do anything in most cases. The bumps typically clear on their own in a time span of 6-12 months, but some cases may stay as long as 4 years.
You may, however, resort to treatment if the lesions bother you or occur in the genital area (to avoid transmission during sexual intercourse). Treatment options include:
- Cryotherapy – In this procedure, the bumps are frozen with liquid nitrogen.
- Curettage – This involves piercing the center of the bumps before scraping off the cheesy or caseous substance in them.
- Laser therapy – The procedure involves exposing the bumps to laser light which helps to ablate them off, allowing new, healthy skin cells to grow.
- Oral therapy – Oral cimetidine is generally preferred for kids as it is usually less painful, but on the downside, it gives slower results than the physical removal options previously outlined.
- Topical medications – Topical creams and gels such as Podophyllotoxin cream (0.5%), potassium hydroxide, cantharidin, iodine, tretinoin, salicylic acid, and imiquimod have also been used to treat molluscum contagiosum bumps. Imiquimod has however been found to be ineffective in children.
4. Basal Cell Carcinoma (Skin Cancer)Basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, can as well show up as pearly white bumps on feet, ankles, legs, hands, back, or any other exposed area of the skin. It is the undesirable consequence of too much sun exposure. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which is often abbreviated to UV, helps with vitamin D synthesis but too much exposure can lead to a whole load of problems ranging from premature aging to dark spots, and worse of them all, skin cancer.
On a good note, though, basal cell carcinoma is a less common causative factor for such bumps since the feet typically receive less sun exposure compared to other parts of the body. You will still want to rule it out though. You should suspect basal cell carcinoma if the white bumps on feet also discharge and have an open sore-like appearance.
Basal cell carcinoma tends to be painless and unaggressive, which means that it will, in most cases, not move beyond the skin. Some people report recurrent cracking, ulceration, and bleeding in the areas of skin where cancer ultimately appears.
To prevent the occurrence of basal cell carcinoma, and other types of skin cancer (malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma), you should wear good SPF sunscreen every time you go outdoors, even on cloudy days.
It is also advisable to limit your exposure to UV radiation. Time your outdoor excursions and activities properly (outside the 10 am and 4 pm period) and wear appropriate clothing to cover most parts of the skin, e.g., wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved pants, etc.
White Bumps on Bottom of FeetWhite bumps that appear on the soles of feet may be indicative of several skin conditions. These include:
1. Plantar warts (Verrucas) – White Warts on the Bottom of FeetAlso known as verrucas, plantar warts are raised, often painful bumps that grow on the soles of your feet. They typically occur on the heels or the ball of the feet. The growths are notable for the characteristic black hole which is surrounded by a white area of hardened skin. Also, contrary to other types of warts, plantar warts grow into your skin rather than protrude out from the surface of the skin.
Human papillomavirus, HPV, is responsible for plantar warts. Usually occurring in pair or clusters, they can be passed from one person to another, but the risk of transmission is typically low. Damaged skin increases the risk of contraction of HPV virus as so do wet environments such as swimming pool decks and changing rooms.
Plantar Warts TreatmentAlthough plantar warts are not a serious health concern, they can become painful and make walking difficult. On the positive side though, most cases will go away on their own without treatment. The exact time it takes for them to clear, however, differ from one person to another.
If they get so painful, however, treatment with salicylic acid may help to speed things up. Treatment is also recommended if plantar warts become filled with pus, become crusty, shows some color change, or occurs in an individual suffering from diabetes or HIV/AIDS.
2. Corns and CallusesCorns and calluses also rank among skin conditions that cause white bumps on feet. They are characterized by areas of thick skin and can affect the top of the feet as well as the bottom. Corns and calluses occur as a result of friction and pressure on the feet sustained from continuous rubbing. Poorly-fitting shoes are a common culprit.
Corns are usually small, round circles of hard skin. They tend to form on the most-curved areas of the foot such as the toe joints. Soft corns can also develop in the moist areas between the toes.
Calluses, on the other hand, are generally wider than and not as well-defined as corns, and usually, occur on the flat areas of the feet. The ball of the foot is one frequent trouble spot.
Wearing well-fitting shoes with good quality insoles is usually helpful for most cases of corns and calluses. If not, a visit to a podiatrist will suffice. The podiatrist may decide to remove the thickened areas of skin surgically.
If you are not sure, it is best to seek the assistance of a doctor, dermatologist, or podiatrist in identifying the exact cause of white bumps on feet that you are dealing with and get suitable treatment.