Dry, cracked heels – How to prevent, and heal, cracks for smooth and healthy feet

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When the skin of our feet is very dry and calloused, cracks can appear, most commonly on the heels. They start off more unsightly than uncomfortable but, if left untreated, can become painful. This article explains what causes feet to crack and how to prevent cracks from forming. We also look at how to heal cracks when they do appear so your feet are smooth, soft and healthy again.

What causes dry, cracked heels?

The skin on your heel is naturally thicker and dryer than the skin on the rest of your body. Unlike the rest of your body the skin under your foot does not have any oil glands which causes it to dry out and split more easily. There are many reasons why we suffer from dry, cracked heels and we consider some of the main triggers below.

Ill-fitting footwear

Open-backed or poorly fitting shoes are one of the most common reasons people suffer with cracked heels. When our shoes are ill-fitting the fat pad on our heel expands sideways and this causes extra pressure on the bottom of our feet. The skin becomes inflamed and this in turn leads to dryness and cracking.

Daily activities

With many of us leading busy lives we spend a lot of time on our feet. If you exercise a lot or spend vast quantities of your day standing you will be more likely to suffer with dry heels.

Ageing skin

As our skin ages it loses its natural elasticity and tends to dry out quicker, the fat pad on our heel that provides cushioning and support also becomes thinner. The pressure from walking and standing causes more strain on the heel ultimately causing it to become dry and cracked.

Soaps and hygiene

Many of the soaps that we use everyday contain chemicals that are actually very drying for our skin. Chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulphate, parabens and synthetic fragrances are best avoided if you are prone to suffering with dry skin on your heels.

The temperature of the water that you wash your feet in can cause further irritation. Regularly washing your feet in very hot water dehydrates the skin and causes your heels to become dry, sore and cracked.

Medical conditions

While cracked skin is common on heels, this could also be caused by a medical condition.

Some medical disorders can increase the risk of cracked heels. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Athlete’s Foot
  • Fungal infections
  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Hypothyroidism

If you think a medical condition may be causing your dry cracked heels it is advisable to seek the advice of a medical professional.

Cracked heel symptoms

Dry skin can lead to cracks, especially on heels

Cracked heels form when the skin around your heel becomes damaged and thickened. The damaged skin splits creating the cracks that you can see. Most people will know that they are suffering with cracked heels simply due to their appearance but other symptoms you may experience are:

  • Flaky skin
  • Itching
  • Pain/soreness

If your symptoms become more severe, i.e. you experience ulceration, swelling and/or a loss of feeling in your heel, you may have an infection which will need to be treated by a medical professional.

Treatment for cracked heels

There are many excellent home remedies for treating dry feet and cracked heels that won’t cost you a fortune. Using easy to find, natural products in your cupboards that you have at home is all you need to get started.

  • Exfoliation: Regular exfoliation of your feet and heels will help to remove any dead dry skin and prevent the build-up of thick skin on your heels. There are many different types of exfoliating products available from foot scrubs, to loofahs and electronic skin removers.
  • Soaking: A regular foot soak will also help to keep your skin soft and supple. Soaking your heels in a warm bath with natural ingredients that contain antibacterial properties such as honey, vinegar or tea tree oil will keep your heels healthy and prevent them from cracking.
  • Heel balms and moisturisers: Use an intensive specialist healing cream when your cracked heels are at their worst. Choose a cream that has a high percentage of Urea, which helps prevent the skin from losing water and encourages the dead skin to gently fall off. Once your heel cracks have improved, maintaining a regular daily moisturising routine will help to prevent your feet from becoming dry and cracked again.
  • Pedicure: This is the perfect way to give your feet and heels some love and attention. Our detailed 10-step pedicure guide tells you everything you need to know about creating the perfect home pedicure to get your dry heels in tip top shape.

How to prevent dry, cracked heels

We say that prevention is better than cure and making a few small changes to your footwear and foot care regime will help prevent you from suffering with dry cracked heels.

Wear the right footwear

Check that your shoes are well fitted and supportive around your heel and ankle. Try to avoid wearing sandals as these often do not provide enough support around your heel.

Using custom made insoles which will help to ensure your feet are perfectly positioned in your shoes, helping to cushion your heel and ensure pressure is spread evenly over your whole foot.

If you spend many hours wearing high heels each day you are unfortunately more likely to suffer with cracked heels. Read our 'How to wear high heels and platforms without straining your feet' article for top tips and advice on how best to prevent putting excessive pressure on your feet.

Wear the right socks

Your choice of socks are important and can make a big difference to the health of your feet and heels. Choosing socks that are made from natural, breathable products such as cotton, bamboo and wool will help prevent your heels drying out from excessive sweating and becoming cracked.

Exfoliate and moisturise

Exfoliating your feet is a fast and effective solution for cracked heels

Regularly moisturising your feet and heels both day and night will help them to rehydrate. Treat yourself to a relaxing weekly foot soak in warm (not hot) water to help remove dry dead skin. Remember to include nourishing oils for the ultimate treat for your feet.

Check with your doctor

If your dry cracked heels do not improve, or you are concerned that you might have an infection, it is important that you talk to your doctor. You can find further advice about [dry feet] or corns and calluses on the Elastoplast website.

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