Dry feet and cracked heels

Cracked heels are generally referred to as thickening of the skin's hornified layer and the formation of fissures on the heel and soles.
Dry feet

Dry feet with cracked heels cannot only be unsightly, but can often be a source of pain and embarrassment. Cracking or splitting of the skin causes cracked heels. This splitting may be due to dryness and/or thickening of the callus that cracks and breaks under pressure. When the skin around the heels becomes thickened or dry, it loses it's suppleness and elasticity, and can split under simple pressures such as that from walking. Dry skin is painful and itchy, and it can allow diseases to enter the body through tiny cracks. You may see thick areas of skin on your feet, called calluses, if you wear shoes without socks or if you go often barefoot.

Causes dry feet

The most general cause of dry feet is simple that the skin of your feet needs some care and moisture to make it supple again. But there can be other, sometimes-medical conditions that can lead to skin dryness:

  • Genetic predisposition for dry skin
  • Diabetes where autonomic neuropathy leads to less sweating and thus less moisture
  • Thyroid problems
  • Dermatitis caused by Tinea / Athletes foot
  • Venous stasis dermatitis
  • Kidney disease or taking diuretics
  • Lymphoma
  • Psoriasis & Eczema
  • Chilblains & Pressure & Circulation Issues
Dry feet treatments

The quickest way to smooth supple foot skin is intensive and regular moisturizing foot care. Remove the dead skin. Protective and palliative care includes moisturizing and padding callused skin. Regular moisturizer use helps keep callused skin moist and supple.

Warm-water soaks are also effective for softening the skin. Epsom salts and essential oils are sometimes added to the water for additional benefits. Once the skin is softened, a pumice stone or foot file can be used to gently file away the callus. Callus removal is not only lifting the dead skin, it stimulate fresh growth underneath. Nonmedicated or moleskin pads that are applied around a callus or around areas that tend to callus can prevent friction and pressure.

Cracked Heels

Cracked heels are generally referred to as thickening of the skin's hornified layer and the formation of fissures on the heel and soles. When the skin around the heels becomes thickened and/or dry, it loses it's suppleness and elasticity, and can split under simple pressures such as that from walking. The collection of these factors can cause the skin to become brittle and crack open.

Cracked heals can lead to unsightly, painful and even bleeding cracks on the heel. Cracked heels are not only unsightly but also sometimes even quite painful. This can further be made worse in people who have a large fatty pad on the sole of their feet, which under pressure requires more elasticity in the skin to expand without cracking. Other causes of increased pressure include prolonged standing, pregnancy or excess weight. There can be other, sometimes medical conditions, that can lead to cracked heals.

Causes of cracked heels

  • Walking around barefooted or in footwear such as thongs, sling or open backed sandals that dry’s out the feet.
  • Walking on dry sand.
  • Genetic cause. Skin type is often genetic. Some heels get very thick callus but don't crack where as others have no callus at all, but crack badly after a day in the sand.
  • Long standing at work or home, especially on hard floors. 
  • Increased weight that causes increased pressure on the heels causing callus. With increased weight the heel is also required expand more and hence can often crack more.
  • Ill-fitting shoes or sandals that don't support the heels from expanding sideways under pressure.
  • Unhygienic circumstances or conditions as well as fungal infections/tinea.
  • Unhealthy, dry scaly skin that can be caused by climate, such as low humidity during dry summers or cold winters.
  • Deficiency of vitamins, minerals, zinc and malnutrition.
  • Hormonal conditions such as thyroid or hormonal imbalances.
  • Circulation problems.
  • Venous stasis
  • Kidney disease or taking diuretics.
  • Lymphoma.
  • Psoriasis and eczema.
  • Chilblains, pressure and circulation issues
Cracked heel treatment

Baby smooth heels are achievable with regular foot care. Most cracked heels can be treated at home. Using a heel balm or oil based moisturiser twice daily. Using a heel balm in the morning is very important as it increases the elasticity of the skin on your heels before you get moving for the day and assists in decreasing the occurrence of cracks.

Callus removal with a pumice stone or a foot file can be used to reduce the thickness of the hard skin in less severe cases. In more severe cracks you may need the help of a podologist. Callus forming prevention and callus removal is the best treatments for cracked heels. Callus removal must be done regularly. You can use a foot file or pumice stone on both wet and dry feet to see which one works better with your skin type.

If cracks start to bleed apply an antiseptic to prevent infection and keep the cracks clean with a dressing as needed. The other advantage to wearing a dressing is that it will help keep in the moisture too. If the cracks are very painful and bleeding, you can strap cracked heels together with a rigid sports tape to 'hold' the cracks together while they heal.

Also, important for healing heel cracks is rest;

  • Wear closed in shoes and good socks when you can.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep you and your skin hydrated.
  • Essential fatty acids within your diet (e.g. Omega 3 fatty acids) and a good diet may assist.
  • In some cases wearing heel cups in your shoes may help. Heel cups made of silicon can help to keep your feet moist and stop the heel pad from expanding excessively.