Are your heels as dry as the Sonoran Desert and begging for some TLC?
Cracked heels, also known as heel fissures, are a common and uncomfortable foot condition that can affect anyone. Dry and thickened skin causes the heel to crack and form calluses around the edge of the heel. Not only can they look bad, but they can also lead to infections.
If cracked heels have you down, Rebecca Thiede, MD, a dermatologist with Banner - University Medicine, has expert advice on healing your feet and preventing this from reoccurring.
What causes dry, cracked heels?
Cracked heels tend to get worse during the winter months and in dry climates, but there are several different causes – some related to genetic, lifestyle or health conditions.
“We commonly see cracked heels with a condition called keratoderma climactericum (Haxthausen’s disease) where people who frequently wear backless shoes (such as sandals and flip-flops) get thickened skin and fissures on the pressure points of the heels,” Dr. Thiede said.
Age and certain medical conditions can also contribute to drier skin. Your dry, cracked feet can be caused by eczema, which is typically genetic. While hands and feet are not the most common location for eczema, it can occur here. Other causes of dry heels include diabetes, psoriasis, hypothyroidism, Sjogren’s syndrome, and infections like athlete’s foot.
Simply walking barefoot on hard flooring can also cause dry, cracked heels.
How can I treat cracked heels at home?
To fight back against cracked heels, Dr. Thiede shared the following tips:
1. Moisturize with thick creams or ointments (not lotions)
For hardened heels, moisturizing several times a day is crucial. This includes a thick layer at night and putting on cotton stockings afterward to help with absorption and penetration.
Products with lanolin, petroleum jelly, glycerin and ceramides are good products to look for. If you are prone to contact allergies, avoid lanolin.
“There are also some over-the-counter products that are better at treatment as they contain ingredients that can also help remove the thick amount of scale that has built up on the heels,” Dr. Thiede said. “Look for ones with urea, salicylic acid and alpha-hydroxy acid.”
2. Soak and exfoliate
Set aside time weekly to soak your feet in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil or a pre-packaged foot soak like Dr. Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt. Soaking your feet will hydrate your skin and make it easier for a pumice stone to do its job.
After your foot soaks, you can gently exfoliate and slough off (or get rid of) dead skin with a pumice stone.
“Avoid shaving or peeling calluses as this can lead to infection and cellulitis, especially for those with diabetes,” Dr. Thiede said. “There is a risk of cutting too much tissue and causing bleeding.”
3. Purchase the right footwear
Shoes and footwear are a great place to start when trying to prevent cracked heels and other foot problems. Find shoes that are comfortable and provide additional heel support. Avoid open-heel shoes, high heels, tight shoes, thongs and sandals.
4. Apply a liquid bandage
Liquid bandage can be used over the fissures to seal the wound and prevent infections or further cracking. You can find this product over the counter at a drug store or online. Apply it on clean, dry skin.
Some people use super glue to close skin cracks, but you should talk to your health care provider before trying this approach. Some commercial superglue can be toxic, depending on the brand.
5. Seek medical attention
If you don’t find relief with home treatment, talk to your provider, a dermatologist or a podiatrist. And do not treat cracked heels on your own if they are caused by a medical condition.
For severe cases, you should see a medical professional to ensure you receive the best treatment for your situation.
How can I prevent cracked heels?
Your footwear is really important. “Wear closed-toe shoes and avoid going barefoot,” Dr. Thiede said. “Wear insoles and/or heel pads that cushion your heels and feet.”
Other ways you can prevent cracked heels:
- Routinely moisturize your feet and heels with ointment and creams (not lotions).
- Avoid standing for long periods of time on hard floors.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Inspect your feet daily, especially if you have diabetes or another condition that causes dry skin.
Sometimes cracked heels are caused by dry weather or wearing the wrong shoes. Other times they can be caused by a medical condition.