When the skin around your heels succumbs to the environment, it can become dry and brittle. In this fragile state, the skin will split apart resulting in cracked heels.
A 2012 survey done by the Institute for Preventative Foot Health found that some 20 percent of adults live with cracked heels. While the problem is more common in adults, it does occur in children as well. More often than not it will be women facing this problem, though it is experienced by men as well.
Cracked heels are usually not a serious problem, though they can be unsightly and hard to get rid of. In some cases, the cracks in the heels can get quite deep resulting in pain in the heels.
If these cracks are left untreated, they can become painful openings in the skin. Any open wound is prime breeding ground for infections which can of course lead to a welter of other health complications.
Today we will be discussing what causes these painful and embarrassing heel cracks as well as what you can do to alleviate the problem.
Read on for some great information that could really help you out!
How do I know if my heels are cracked?
If your heels are severely cracked, bad enough for you to be experiencing pain, you will know all about it and it's time to take action.
One of the first signs of a problem is that your heels will feel really rough. The edges of your heel may be white in color and feel hard and rough to the touch.
Skin might begin to peel away around the edges of your heels, exposing small cracks underneath.
If your heels develop a thick callus-like tissue that is slightly yellow in color, this is one of the first signs pointing to the fact that you will soon be experiencing the effects of cracked heels. These calluses will usually cause much pain and discomfort while you are up on your feet throughout the day, or while you are doing anything that puts pressure on them.
If you leave these calluses untreated and you continually apply pressure to the calluses, eventually the pressure and dryness will result in cracks and breaks in your heels.
Sometimes these cracks can get deep enough that they will become an open wound and they will begin to bleed. These deep cracks can quickly become a much larger problem, especially if you have certain health problems like diabetes.
What causes cracked heels?
There are many things that can cause cracked heels, but you can't properly treat the problem unless you know what is causing it. It is important to discover the culprit of your cracked heels so that you can get to the root of the issue and fix it before it gets too bad.
Some of the most common causes of cracked heels are listed below. Perhaps one of these issues is the reason behind your cracked heels…
1. Skin conditions
There are several skin conditions that can make you especially susceptible to cracked heels. Any skin condition (like psoriasis or eczema) that causes your skin to become extremely dried out, flaky, peel away or develop cracks into the layers of skin can result in problems. Sometimes these issues can lead to very deep cracks that open and bleed. Since your feet get more use than your arms, it is understandable that you would experience more problems with the skin of your feet than you would with skin in other areas of the body.
2. Wearing the wrong shoes
No two people have the same arches, hot spots, or gait, so when we wear shoes designed for the masses, we can sometimes run into problems. If your shoes are too big or too small, or they are too tight or too loose, they can slip around unnecessarily. Shoes that are open and expose your feet to the elements can make your heels dry out resulting in cracks.
3. Bad hygiene
You learned when you were young that your skin is your largest organ, and your heels are skin too. If you do not take care of your skin properly by cleansing it, ensuring it is dry and moisturizing it, you can cause many problems, including cracked heels.
One of the main causes for dry skin in general is lack of moisture. During colder months, we tend to keep our feet put away and often forget to care for them properly. When we don't moisturize well, the skin dried out resulting in cracked heels. Your heels tend to be very dry anyway, as there are not many sweat glands in that part of your foot. If your heels tend to be dry already, you will likely experience cracked heels sooner and more often than others who don't have particularly dry feet.
Many people eat poor diets that are severely lacking in vital minerals and nutrients. If your diet is lacking in vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, potassium or zinc, your heels may be more prone to drying out and cracking open.
6. Too much moisture
This may be surprising, as we said above that a lack of moisture can lead to dry, cracked heels. However, the opposite also holds true. If your feet are exposed to water or moisture for long periods of time, the natural moisturizing oils in your heels can be washed away leaving your skin dry and rough. This dry skin can lead to cracked heels.
People who are overweight tend to experience cracked heels more often than their healthy peers. The added weight means that the fatty pad under the heel is under more pressure. This pressure makes the heel expand in ways it is not meant to, resulting in cracks in the inflexible skin.
The older we get, the more problems we seem to have with our skin. As you age, your skin thins out and loses its elasticity, and you also lose some natural moisture. All of these issues compound and result in thin, dry skin that doesn't stretch well and is easily cracked open.
Many issues that lead to dry cracked skin and heels are things that are passed down through family members through the generations. Some people are just more prone to developing thick callused heels than others, and some people are just more likely to have drier skin. Sometimes, there really is nothing you can do differently, it is simply a genetic problem.
10. Health conditions
People with certain health problems are more likely to experience the effects of dry, cracked heels as a result of their condition. One of the main health problems related to cracked heels is diabetes. Diabetics are far more prone to having problems with their feet, and need to pay close attention to their foot health lest it become a serious problem
How to heal cracked heels
Once you determine what is causing your heels to dry out and crack open, it will be much easier to find a solution.
Some problems will be easier to address than others, for obvious reason. You can't avoid genetic problems as easy as you can properly moisturize, but we have options for that as well.
Continue reading to arm your foot care arsenal with tips and tricks for treating your cracked heels…
Healing cracked heels at home
Before you go running to your doctor for help, you should know that there are many things you can do at home to help alleviate the problem of your cracked heels.
1. Soak your feet
If you are experiencing cracked heels, the skin on your feet is probably extremely thick and dry, so it won't absorb moisturizing lotions very well.
Before you move on to the next steps, you should soak your feet to help these problems.
Find a soaking tub big enough for your feet. Fill this tub with warm water and a bit of soap.
Soak your feet in this water for half an hour or so, allowing the water to soak into the dry and cracked areas of your heels.
You can use a loofah or scrubby sponge to wash your feet with the water, but don't scrub just yet.
When you are through, pat your feet dry, but don't completely dry them at this stage…
Next, you should remove the dead skin from your heels. If you have cracked heels, you should never scrub your feet when they are dry as it will raise your risk of damaging your skin.
Do this by gently rubbing your dry cracked skin with a pumice stone. Rub the stone against your heels in a circular motion, careful to never use too much pressure or you can worsen the cracks and pain.
Do not ever use scissors or blades on your heels or you might break the skin even further. The more breaks there are in the skin, the more likely you are to get an infection.
If you have diabetes, do not attempt this yourself. Most diabetics experience neuropathy and cannot feel their feet as well as people without diabetes. If you have diabetes and are suffering from dry cracked heels, make an appointment with your doctor to get proper treatment.
There are some exfoliating creams and scrubs available, but we would caution against using them if you have deep painful cracks that are open in your heels. Some of the ingredients in these products might cause more pain to these spots, and that would be no good at all.
One of the easiest things you can do to treat your cracked heels is to moisturize your feet well and often.
You can use general body lotion for this, though it might be ideal to utilize a lotion that has been formulated specifically to treat exceptionally dry skin, or even one that is made just for treating dry feet.
Another moisturizing option is using a heel balm. Containing a mixture of ingredients that are useful for exfoliating dead skin, as well as softening and moisturizing the healthy skin, these balms are a great first line of defense in the battle against cracked heels.
Ingredients to look out for include salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids and urea. Also look for cocoa butter, shea butter and moisturizing oils in the ingredients.
Use these lotions or balms throughout the day, especially in the morning time. Make sure you are wearing shoes that will keep your heels protected.
At bedtime, be sure to apply even more moisturizer. Consider using something like petroleum jelly at this time. Wear socks while you sleep, but make sure that they are 100 percent cotton. The combination of moisturizer and socks will allow your feet to heal by moisturizing them with the petroleum jelly and the socks will keep the moisture where it belongs (on your feet – not the sheets) while still allowing your skin to breathe.
After doing this for a week or so, your heels should be feeling much softer and less painful.
If the problem leading to your cracked heels is that you are wearing shoes that expose your heels to the elements, you should choose a different shoe for the time being. Sandals are certainly more comfortable in the summer months, but they are not a good choice if you are prone to cracked heels. If you really must wear sandals or flip flops, try to choose one that has a thick sole and some arch support. A sandal type shoe with a back strap is going to be a better choice than a simple flip flop, but shoes with optimal support will always be the best choice.
Covering the deeper cracks with antibiotic ointment or thick lotion is great – but then it sometimes comes off as you go about your day.
If you have a few cracks that are worse than others, you can give them extra support to heal while you are treating the whole issue.
After putting the lotion or cream on your cracked heels, cover the worst offending cracks with bandages to keep the treatment where you need it. Unfortunately, these bandages will often slip off as you walk around, and that can be annoying.
A good alternative choice here is using a liquid bandage product. These products will seal the wound and prevent dirt and bacteria from entering it.
Healing cracked heels via prescription
Sometimes no matter what you do, you just won't be able to heal your heels on your own.
If you are facing this problem, schedule an appointment with your primary doctor or with a specialist like a podiatrist or dermatologist.
If your cracked heels are so severe that no home treatment will work, you may require prescription grade moisturizers or special steroid creams to help treat the problem.
We know how embarrassing, not to mention how painful cracked heels can be and we hope that our information and advice in this article helps you to have happier, healthier feet.
Thank you so much for reading and come back soon!