Dry and Cracked Heels


Uh oh! Are fault lines developing on your heels? Do your heels feel dry, rough, or hurt when you walk? Cracked heels are a common problem that may develop into painful fissures or openings if left untreated. You may see dehydrated feet as a minor nuisance or merely a cosmetic issue, but cracked heels can lead to further problems such as fungal infections and ulcerations.

The good news? Cracked heels can be prevented with proper attention. There are numerous products that can combat dryness and may be helpful in treating a variety of skin problems, including athlete's foot and psoriasis. Foot care is an especially important issue for the increasing number of diabetic patients globally. If you’re suffering from cracked heels, it’s time for some foot TLC.

What Causes Dry Cracked Heels?

One of the main causes of dry, cracking skin is arid winter air, but other factors can impact heels too. Common problems that contribute to heel fissures include (but are not limited to):

  • Age. Skin loses its ability to stretch as we age, making cracks more common.
  • Psoriasis or other skin-related conditions like athlete's foot, psoriasis, and eczema.
  • Diabetes can interrupt the body's ability to produce oils, making the skin less supple and more susceptible to extreme dryness.
  • Vitamin deficiency. Deficiency of vitamins, minerals, and zinc can lead to skin breakdown.
  • Excess weight can create extra pressure on feet.
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid disease

Additionally, prolonged standing in ill-fitting shoes can become a problem due to added pressure. Poorly structured feet can sometimes lead to abnormal gait that produces calluses to the heel. Excess exposure to water, especially running water, can rob the skin of its natural oils and can leave the skin dry and rough.

Symptoms of Dry Cracked Heels

One of the first signs of dry, cracked heels is formation of thick, discolored callus tissue that may cause pain with everyday pressure-related activities like walking or running. If the callus goes untreated and continuous pressure is applied, you may eventually notice small or even deep breaks that may bleed. And ouch! These fissures can hurt! If not properly cared for, these cracks may cause an infection. The skin of the heels may begin to redden or become severely inflamed. Diabetics must check their feet daily because these changes can go unnoticed due to a decreased ability to feel their feet.

Non-Surgical Treatment and Prevention

Dry, cracked heels are easily prevented by wearing adequate supportive shoes and with regular use of moisturizers. The goal? Prevent cracks from forming in the first place.

  • Topical creams are the best skin care treatment. Creams that use keratolytic and humectant agents containing urea, salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids, saccharide isomerate, and petroleum jelly may all be successful. Apply these agents 2-3 times a day until healed. Creams are your heels’ new best friend!
  • Pumice stones can remove some of the excess dead skin that is preventing proper healing. Gently exfoliate your heels to allow for better absorption of topical creams.
  • Bandages or coverings allow moisturizing agents to work more effectively, prevent moisture loss, and act as a barrier against bacteria growth.
  • Custom insoles (orthotics) can also redistribute pressure abnormalities on the heel.

If healing is slow, your podiatrist or other healthcare practitioner may decide to remove specific callus tissue to help the healing process. Do not attempt this at home or at local pedicurist, as this can lead to infection or excessive skin removal if done improperly.

Give your feet some extra daily care and ideally you can avoid cracked heels from day one!

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your health care provider on all matters relating to this or any other condition that may affect your health.