How to Treat Cracked Heels That Just Won't Go Away
A podiatrist lays out the best ways to prevent and treat the dry, split skin on your heels.
Cracked heels can seemingly pop up out of nowhere, and they essentially suck during the summer when they're constantly exposed in sandals. And once they form, getting rid of them can prove tricky. If you've been slathering on the most high-octane lotion you can find to no avail, here's everything you need to know.
Odds are your skin is quite literally cracking under pressure. "Our feet are responsible for holding up our body and therefore they withstand a tremendous amount of pressure," says Miguel Cunha, doctor of podiatric medicine and founder of Gotham Footcare. "When weight and pressure are applied to the heels of our feet, the skin expands outward. If the skin is dry, it becomes less elastic and rigid and therefore more prone to fissures and cracking." (Related: The Foot-Care Products and Creams Podiatrists Use On Themselves)
What Causes Cracked Heels and Feet?
There are quite a few factors that could be contributing to your cracked heels. Conditions like obesity, diabetes, eczema, hypothyroidism, Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disease), and juvenile plantar dermatosis (a foot skin condition), have all been linked to cracked feet, says Cunha. Having flat feet, wearing ill-fitting shoes, and living in dry, cold weather can also play a part. (Related: What Really Happens to Your Skin When You Use Baby Foot Exfoliating Peel)
It could also be a fungal infection. "Many people assume if they suffer from dry or cracked heels, they simply need to grab a bottle of lotion when one of the most common reasons is actually Athlete's Foot infection," says Cunha. Common symptoms of Athlete's Foot include dry-looking skin, itching between the toes, peeling skin, inflammation, and blisters, and if you have symptoms that don't improve within two weeks, you should visit a podiatrist, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Before we get into how to treat cracked heels, it's also important to note that they're easier to prevent than to get rid of. The best ways to prevent cracked heels include avoiding walking barefoot in public or wearing dirty socks, which can both expose feet to bacteria and fungal organisms, says Cunha. In addition, you can spray the insides of your shoes daily with Lysol to kill germs. (Related: Products That'll Prep Your Feet Before They See the Light of Day)
How Can You Treat Cracked Heels?
If the damage has already been done, Cunha recommends a multipronged strategy. "When patients come to my office with thick calluses and cracked heels, I commonly recommend the use of Urea 40 percent gel such as Bare 40 Moisturizing Urea Gel," he says. Urea has keratolytic effects (it can break down rough, excess skin) and it acts as a humectant. "I inform my patients to apply the gel evenly throughout both feet at night, wrap their feet with saran wrap, and wear socks to bed," says. Cunha. "The saran wrap will promote the penetration of the gel into the foot to help break down rough calluses and dry, cracked skin." (If you don't like the idea of using single-use plastic, look into lined socks or heel coverings.)
In the morning, you can use a foot file like the Amope Pedi Perfect Foot File (Buy It, $14, amazon.com) in the shower to remove the thickened and callused areas that got broken down by the cream overnight. Post shower, follow up with a moisturizer like Eucerin Advanced Repair Cream (Buy It, $12, amazon.com) or Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel (Buy It, $17, amazon.com). If you've determined that your cracked heels are a result of athlete's foot, Cunha recommends also using an OTC anti-fungal.
While healing cracked heels is difficult, it can be done. If you're serious about getting rid of them, amping up your foot care might do the trick.