How to Fix Cracked Heels

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Cracked heels, also called heel fissures, occur when the bottom and heels of your feet become dry, hard, flaky, or crusty. Fissures, or cracks, begin to form in the skin. The skin of the heel may also become yellow in color. Although cracked heels are typically mild, in some cases they can lead to pain, itching, or bleeding.

Many people have cracked heels, although women are more likely to be affected than men. Read on to learn more about what causes cracked heels, how to treat them, and the best methods for prevention.

Raised and cracked heels

Sarawut Ladgrud / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Causes Cracked Heels?

There are various causes of cracked heels, some of which may be attributed to medical conditions, while others are driven by lifestyle and environmental factors.

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions that can cause dry and cracked heels include:

  • Obesity
  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema
  • Fungal infections
  • Sjogren’s syndrome is a rare condition that causes dry skin due to an overactive immune system, which attacks moisture-producing glands in the body
  • Palmoplantar keratoderma, which is a group of skin conditions that causes the skin on the hands and soles of the feet to thicken
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid gland responsible for producing certain key hormones doesn’t function properly and produces less than the body needs

Diabetes and Cracked Heels

People with diabetes should exercise caution if they experience cracked heels, as they are more likely to experience an infection than those without the condition.

Lifestyle and Environmental Factors

Cracked heels can also develop because of lifestyle and environmental factors, including:

  • Standing for long periods of time
  • Wearing open-backed shoes or shoes that lack support
  • Not using moisturizer, especially if your feet are exposed to a dry and cold climate

Are There Home Remedies for Cracked Heels?

Cracked heels are highly treatable with home remedies. Since heel fissures are primarily caused by dry skin, methods that target hydration are best suited to facilitate the healing process.

Heel Balm or Moisturizer 

Heel balms are the first choice of treatment for dry and cracked heels. They can come in the form of humectants, occlusives, emollients, and rejuvenators. These specific ingredients are important to look out for when choosing the right product for your cracked heels.

This can be done daily, especially after a shower since it's the best time to lock in the moisture. You can also wear socks after moisturizing so the product doesn't transfer to the floor.

   Ingredients  How They Work
 Humectants Glycerin, urea, ammonium lactate, gelatin, hyaluronic acid Enhance the body’s ability to absorb moisture
 Occlusives Lanolin, Paraffin, petrolatum, cholesterol, stearyl alcohol Forms a barrier on the skin to prevent moisture loss
 Emollients Petrolatum, vegetable oil, dimethicone, propylene glycol, castor oil Fills in fissures and cracks
 Rejuvenators  Collagen, keratin, elastin Fills in fissures and cracks

Research has shown that the preferred moisturizers for cracked heels contain both an occlusive and a humectant agent for the best possible outcome.

Foot Soak and Exfoliate

Foot skin that is cracked tends to be thicker and drier than skin in other locations on the body. Because of this, soaking your feet and using an exfoliating tool can help to remove the hard, thick skin that causes the fissures to develop.

How to Exfoliate Cracked Heels

Keep your feet soaking in lukewarm water for roughly 20 minutes and then gently scrub your feet with a pumice stone or foot file. When you have finished, be sure to apply your moisturizer of choice to the area.

Wear Cotton Socks to Bed

Wearing cotton socks to bed, especially after you’ve moisturized your feet, is thought to keep feet from drying out during the night, which can treat cracked heels. The theory is that it traps moisturizer and prevents it from rubbing off during the night allowing it to do its job.

Clinical Evidence of Cotton Socks

Although there is no clinical evidence to support the claim that wearing cotton socks to bed will heal dry and cracked feet, some studies have found that wearing cotton is beneficial for people with other types of dry skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis.  

Liquid Bandage

A liquid bandage is a type of topical skin treatment that can be applied to the area to seal the cracks and prevent infection. Your heels should be clean and dry prior to applying the liquid bandage.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains several ingredients that have been shown to improve dry skin conditions, even on the heels. Studies have shown that people who use coconut oil daily saw a vast improvement in their dry skin. This oil has also been shown to increase the efficacy of the skin barrier, lower inflammation, and protect from further dryness caused by exposure to the sun.  

Honey

Using honey as a foot scrub may be beneficial for people with cracked heels. Research has shown that the ingredient can prevent bacteria build-up, which lessens the risk for infection. It has also shown to increase moisture levels in the skin.

When Should You See a Doctor for Cracked Heels?

Cracked heels are rarely serious, however, it’s important that you see a doctor if:

  • There are signs of infection
  • You have an underlying health condition such as diabetes
  • The cracks are accompanied by pain, redness, or swelling 

Medical Treatments for Cracked Heels

You should seek out medical treatment for cracked heels if you have been using at-home remedies for a week without any relief. Medical interventions for cracked heels include:

  • Cutting away the hard and thick layer of skin, a process known as debridement.
  • Wrapping the heel with bandages and dressings to reduce movement of the skin.
  • Prescription urea or salicylic acid agents that soften the area.
  • Insoles that can provide better support to the heel.
  • A special type of tissue glue that is designed to hold the cracks together, allowing them to heal.

Treatment for Fungal Skin Issues

If the dry skin is a result of a fungal infection, a topical or oral antifungal medication may be prescribed.

How Can You Prevent Cracked Heels?

Prevention for dry and cracked heels can be accomplished with a healthy foot maintenance routine. Steps you can take to prevent cracked heels include:

Check Feet Daily

Keeping a close eye on how dry your heels appear will help you know when you need to increase your efforts to moisturize.

Wash Feet Daily

Clean feet are less likely to harbor infection-causing bacteria that can create issues if you have chronically cracked heels.

Moisturize Feet After Washing

After you wash or exfoliate your feet, apply moisturizer right away to keep your heels from drying out and cracking.

Wear Closed Toe Shoes With Support

What you wear on your feet matters in terms of how healthy your skin is. If you are prone to cracked heels, you should avoid open-backed shoes and sandals and wear closed-toe and back shoes that provide ample support for your heel and foot.

Shoe Size and Cracked Heels

Wearing the wrong size of shoe can affect the way your weight is supported on your feet which can lead to cracked heels. Ensure that the shoes you’re wearing fit you properly, especially avoiding shoes that are too tight.

Avoid Scented Skincare Products and Harsh Soaps

Some harsh soaps or scented skin care products can irritate the skin further, which will only worsen the issue. They can also cause the skin to become more dry. Avoid using these types of products on your feet to prevent cracked heels and irritation.

Protect Feet From Extreme Temperatures

Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can dry out the skin. To help protect your feet, avoid overexsposure to sunlight, remove damp socks or shoes promptly, and bundle up with thick socks in cold temperatures.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is vital for your skin health. Research has shown that the more hydrated you are, the more moisture can be found in the skin. If you are looking to prevent dry skin and cracked heels, make sure you drink enough water throughout the day.

Summary

Cracked heels are rarely serious, however, if left untreated can lead to serious complications such as infection. This is especially true for people with chronic health conditions that drive their cracked heels.

The best way to avoid cracked heels is by practicing preventive techniques such as keeping the feet moisturized and staying hydrated. If you do happen to develop heel fissures, at-home treatment using emollients, humectants, and other moisturizing agents are typically effective as a first-line of treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Dry and cracked heels can be unsightly, irritating, and even painful but that doesn’t mean that you have to live with them. The aforementioned at-home treatments and prevention techniques will ensure that your feet are kept hydrated, clean, and free of cracks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are you lacking if you have cracked heels?

    If your heels are cracked, the skin in the area is severely dry. This means that you do not have enough moisture in the area.

  • What does having cracked heels say about your health?

    In most cases, cracked heels are not indicative of any sort of underlying health disorder. However, they can be a sign of dehydration, skin conditions, fungal infection, hypothyroidism, and a rare condition known as Sjogren's syndrome.

  • Is coconut oil good for cracked heels?

    According to research, coconut oil is a great at-home remedy for dry skin as it contains several ingredients that can help improve moisture retention. It also contains antibacterial properties, which can aid in preventing infection if you happen to have severely cracked heels.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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