After years of suffering from dry, cracked heels, I followed my doctor's advice and finally found a cure.
Cracked, calloused feet can bleed and cause excruciating pain. When heels, feet, and toes become dry and hardened, no amount of lotion, cream, or soaking can help. After years of suffering, I followed my doctor's advice and have finally found the cure for this condition.
Causes of Dry, Cracked Heels
Your feet are the workhorses of your body. They bear your full weight on just a few square inches. That's why the skin on your feet is thicker than skin elsewhere on your body. Your feet are meant to be pliable in order to accommodate the variation in weight from resting your feet lightly on the ground or pounding the pavement during an intense run. Skin requires moisture in the form of oil in order to stay pliable. When your feet become dry, callouses—dry, thickened skin cells—build up. Because callouses are made up of layers of dry, non-living skin, they are prone to cracking and splitting. Once a crack starts, it can continue until it rips into living skin.
Some people have naturally smooth, soft feet while others are cursed with dry, callous-prone skin. Although tough, dry feet often run in families, age, personal care, and environmental factors can increase the likelihood of developing unsightly, painful heels, foot pads, and toes. Because skin loses its elasticity with age, older people may experience more cracking. Even young people can develop cracked, dry feet from going barefoot or wearing open-heel shoes or sandals. Some medical conditions, such as psoriasis or other skin-related conditions, diabetes, kidney, and thyroid disease can cause a loss of moisture in the feet. Being overweight places additional pressure on your feet and can increase the chances that callouses will crack and become fissures. Fissures are deep cracks that go all the way to the blood supply under the callous. Fissures often bleed and may become infected. Lastly, living in dry areas with little humidity can contribute to the development of dry, calloused feet.
Forget the high-priced heel creams. While feet need moisture to heal and prevent further damage, most drugstore emollients will do. The trick is to remove the offending callouses so the moisture can reach the live skin underneath then keep the callouses at bay. A three-pronged approach that includes soaking, filing, and moisturizing can help you get the relief you need.
- Start by soaking your feet in a warm salt water bath for at least 20 minutes. Sea salt or Epsom salt contains nourishing minerals and can help soften callouses quicker. Add a few drops of essential oils, such as tea tree, peppermint, or lavender to help clean and disinfect deep into the cracks. Peppermint oil helps cool hot, tired feet while lavender works to heal skin irritations. Tea tree is a great antibacterial and anti-fungal agent.
- Dry feet and file with a small to medium size foot file. The best ones look a bit like a cheese grater. These files catch the dead skin inside rather than allowing the debris to fly around the room or mound up on the floor. File off as much callous as you can but stop before you get to the pink skin. Warning: This may be extremely painful if your feet are cracked and bleeding. You may need to attempt this over several days or get someone to help you. Don't try to file callouses before you've soaked.
- After you've filed as much callous as you can, hydrate with a rich emollient moisturizer—but only if you do not have existing cracks. If you have bleeding cracks, do not apply a moisturizer at this point as it will sting and burn like crazy. Skip to the next step. If you are in maintenance mode and do not have open cracks, use a moisturizing sealant product with urea, an ingredient that traps moisture and softens skin. Several foot creams and balms, such as Flexitol Heel Balm and prescription Aluvea, contain urea. Working Hands is a balm that also provides deep moisture.
- After applying moisturizer, wrap feet in plastic wrap and cover with thick socks to allow maximum penetration for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- If cracks are deep and painful or you experience new cracks after filing, apply a dab of antibiotic ointment then wrap with plastic wrap and an ace bandage until the broken skin underneath the callous begins to heal. You may need to wear the bandage for a day or more and especially overnight. During the day, wrap the heel and cover with a sock and a tight-fitting shoe. At night, re-apply ointment and wear the bandage overnight. See your doctor if your pain does not go away, increases, or if redness or swelling occurs. If you are a diabetic or have poor circulation to your lower extremities, see your doctor before wrapping with bandages.
- Soak and file feet once a week, moisturizing at least once a day. You should begin to see softer, smoother heels and feet in just a few days.
- While wearing sandals and flip-flops is one of the many joys of warmer weather, the lack of support and an extra layer of moisture barrier that closed-heel shoes afford contributes to dry, cracked heels. Try alternating wearing a lightweight, closed-heel shoe at home and save the sandals and flip-flops for other occasions.
- See your doctor if you experience fever, swelling, or red streaks up your foot or leg. These symptoms could signal a serious infection.
One Exceptional Cream
While most creams won't moisturize dead, calloused skin, Aluvea can help slough off dead cells; however, it is available only by prescription. Ask your dermatologist about it. It's wonderful!
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Viola Horne
New Guestbook Comments
Peter Weston on August 19, 2018:
I have just completed leg ulcer compression therapy. I now have to wear compression socket for the rest of my life. I do find however that the extra compression leads to greater cracking of the heel and extra attention need to be paid to prevent cellulitis infection from that source. I have found rubbing a piece of my aloe vera plant works wonders on the cracked area.
Viola Horne (author) on November 23, 2012:
@delia-delia: I know how you feel! Colorado is extremely bad. I have to run humidifiers in several rooms to keep the cracking at bay. Thanks for the comment!
Delia on November 23, 2012:
Great information...I have dry skin because of my thyroid condition, rather the lack of a thyroid. I can't hydrate my skin no matter what I have used, humid weather seems to be the only cure...now with winter and snow coming up, I dread my fingers cracking, it's painful.
oiloflife on October 26, 2012:
Try olive oil based soaps!!!