According to the New York Times, more than half of the female population in the US says that their feet embarass them "always, frequently, or some of the time." 50% of women in this country? That statistic may be shocking, but as a foot and ankle specialist I'm not that surprised. 

Dry, cracked heels can be caused by underlying conditions, biomechanical issues, vitamin deficiency, and even your choice of shoes. Treatment options for cracked heels vary depending on the cause, but often involve intense moisturizers and foot soaks. 

Determining why you're experiencing dry, cracked heels is the first step to treating and eventually preventing reoccurance of cracked heels and dry feet.

view of a woman inspecting her dry cracked heelsWhat Causes Dry and Cracked Heels?

The most common cause for cracked heels is dry skin. Dry skin can be a side effect of another underlying condition, or just a sign that you need some extra hydration in your life. If over the counter moisturizers aren't cutting it, talking to a professional about prescription-strength creams should be your next step. There are multiple other potential causes for cracked heels, such as:

  • Bio-mechanical issues. The way you walk causes excess pressure on the back of your heel, causing callus build-up, dry skin, and even fissures. 
  • Walking barefoot. If you're someone who likes to walk around without shoes, you may have just found the cause for your cracked heels. 
  • Circulation problems. Poor circulation can cause extremely dry skin, often on the feet, and may even lead to the development of ulcers. 
  • Diabetic neuropathy. Having less feeling in your feet (or no feeling at all) might mean that you don't notice the severity of your cracked heels until it's too late in addition to complcations for poor circulation related to diabetes.
  • Psioriasis. This condition is an autoimmune disease that may cause painful cracks, redness, flaky skin, and more. 
  • Eczema. Differing from psioriasis in that it is not autoimmune in nature, eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is common in children and causes red, inflammed, itchy skin on many parts of the body, including the heels. 
  • Fungal infections. Fungus, known as "athlete's foot" when it affects the feet, can be detrimental to the health of your feet and may cause, among other things, extremely dry and itchy skin.
  • Compromised moisture barrier. Your moisture barrier protects skin from external toxins, dryness, infection, and more, so issues can arrise when it isn't fucntioning properly.

Vitamin Deficiency and Dry Skin

A lack of B-vitamins, like B3, B7, and B12, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin C can lead to dry, flaky skin. Eating a diet rich in micronurtients can help to improve the look and feel of your skin overall, especially if you suffer from dry, cracked heels. According to an article on Healthline, "if you aren’t getting enough of the essential vitamins you need, it may cause your skin to become dull, dry, and prematurely aged." black and white picture of the back of someone's lower legs and feet, with a dry cracked area of their heel highlighted in red

Where vitamin E is concerned, this antioxidant is the defense your cells need. Collagen protection and immune support are only a few of this vitamin's vital functions in the body. Incorporate salmon, avocado, and mango into your diet as well as hazelnuts and sunflower seeds. Hazelnut oil and sunflower oil may also give you a boost of dietary vitamin E.

Vitamin C also helps your body produce collagen, on top of its more well-known function as an immune-supporting vitamin. A study published in the National Institute of Health, The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health, indicates lower levels of vitamin C in aged skin or skin damaged by the sun. Vitamin C deficiency is rare in developed countries, but increasing the amount you consume could help improve the state of your dry feet due to it's ability to help your body retain moisture. Be sure to prioritize fruits and vegetables like bell peppers, oranges, kiwifruit, kale, strawberries, and more.

Treatments for Cracked Heels

There are countless home "remedies" that claim to get rid of cracked heels. Many of these are not quite science-backed; however, one remedy is surprisingly effective according to a study by E. R. H. S. S. Ediriweera and N. Y. S. Premarathna. Per their study, bee's honey has actually been shown to be effective "in [treating] eye diseases, throat infections, bronchial asthma, tuberculosis, hiccups... healing of wounds, ulcers and used as a nutritious." Additionally, "It promotes rehydration, easily digestable, stimulates immunity, and is beneficial for all types of skins diseases," according to the same article and research on both ancient ayurvedic practices and modern knowledge. 

pouring honey from a jar onto a wooden spoon which is held over a glass bowlUsing honey topically is a great at-home, inexpensive way to treat skin issues. Another pantry-staple that may help improve the look and feel of your skin is colloidal oatmeal. This article on PubMed by Ellen S. Kurtz and Warren Wallo, collodial oatmeal has been officially listed as an approved skin protectant by the FDA since 2003. Collodial oatmeal is created by pulverizing normal every day oats into a fine powder.

This powder is one of many nourishing ingredients in Tolcylen's Dailey Micro-Cleansing Foot Soak, which also uses various oils, lactic acid, magnesium sulfate, and more. Additionally, urea is another ingredient in the foot soak that can improve the health of your skin and its moisture barrier. Urea is deep-penetrating and provides intense hydration and skin barrier repair. daily soak

Are Epsom Salts Good For Cracked Heels?

While epsom salts can help to exfoliate your skin and even soften the harder, callused areas, it is actually doing you more harm than good. Over time, frequently soaking your feet in epsom salts can be extremely drying and even damage your skin's moisture barrier. 

I also don't recommend trying to shave off or scrape the dry, thick calluses yourself because you could cut too deep and injure yourself. A pumice stone is another popular option, but those can harbor bacteria and leave you worse than before. Foot files should be regularly and thoroughly cleaned, and never use one if you are diabetic or suffer from neuropathy in your feet. 

Professional help is available, and there's no reason to be embarassed. A podiatrist or dermatologist can not only work to get your dry, cracked heels looking better, but can provide you with products and the tools you need to keep them that way.

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