Cracked heels leave your feet painful and unsightly. Learn what causes your heels to crack and how to treat them to restore your skin’s softness.

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Cracked Heels: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

12/03/20238 min read

When you have cracked heels, walking, standing, and exercising can be uncomfortable. Plus, since this condition is a bit unsightly, you may feel self-conscious and want to keep your feet hidden from the world.

The good news is you don’t have to suffer any longer. With proper management, most cases of cracked heels can be treated at home.

To help you get your heel cracks under control, let's look at the common symptoms and causes of this condition. Then, we'll dive into treatment options so you can feel comfortable with your feet again.

Table Of Contents

What Are Cracked Heels?

Man with cracked heels

When you hear the phrase cracked heels, what comes to your mind? You likely picture a foot with several cracks on the back. Cracked heels are common, so most people have seen someone with this condition, even if they haven’t personally experienced it.

While they’re unsightly, shallow cracks don’t cause many problems. However, as those cracks deepen, they become more painful. If left untreated, they could even become infected.

But it takes some time for the skin on your heels to crack. Before then, you’ll likely notice some warning signs that your heels need some tender loving care.

The first sign you’ll see is the thickening of your skin on the heel. If you’re developing a callous in the area, it could crack if you don’t start treating it.

Let’s look at some other symptoms you might experience.

Symptoms Of Cracked Heels

Woman with cracked heels

The most obvious symptom of cracked heels is a deep fissure or split in the skin on the heel. Depending on the severity, this may be painful and bleed when touched.

Other signs include:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Flaky skin
  • Blood on your heels
  • A scratchy sound as you pull your socks on
  • Itching and burning sensation around the heel area
  • Pain that intensifies when standing

You may experience all these symptoms or only a couple of them. Some people may only develop cracks on one heel, though many will have cracks on both.

Signs Of An Infected Crack

Cracked skin can sometimes become infected. This is particularly true if the crack is deep or it comes into contact with dirt or other debris.

Signs of an infected heel crack include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Swelling, redness, tenderness, or warmth around the affected area
  • Thick yellow-green pus oozing from the area

If you notice any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor right away. They may prescribe antibiotics or other treatments to clear up the infection and help your heel heal.

To prevent your heel cracks from becoming infected, keep reading to learn about treatment options. The sooner you can restore the skin in this area, the lower your risk of infection.

Causes Of Cracked Heels

Man with cracked heels wearing flip-flops

Now that you know what cracked heels look and feel like, let’s talk about what causes them. Common triggers may include one or more of the below.

Obesity

Your feet bear the brunt of your body weight. If you are overweight, this can put excess strain on your heels and cause cracks in your skin.

Aging

Your skin becomes thinner as you age, making it more prone to dryness and cracking. While you can’t turn back time, being aware of this issue can help you take steps to prevent and treat dry skin on your feet (and the rest of your body.)

Footwear

Wearing ill-fitting or poorly made shoes can cause friction on the heel area, especially if you're wearing them without socks. And excess friction often leads to dry, cracked skin.

Open-heel shoes, such as flip flops or other sandals, can also lead to heel cracks because the back of your foot isn’t being protected.

Dry Skin

Dry skin doesn’t hold moisture well and can become brittle and easily broken. So if you have naturally dry skin, you may get heel cracks more easily.

Environmental factors, such as cold weather and low humidity, can also contribute to dryness and play a role in your cracked heels.

Psoriasis

If you have psoriasis, you may get flare-ups on your feet that can cause cracks. This auto-immune disorder can also lead to scaling, itching, and redness in the area.

Eczema

Eczema causes skin inflammation, redness, and itchiness. It can also make your skin extremely dry and cause fissures. You can develop eczema anywhere on your body, including on your feet.

Athlete’s Foot

Man with athlete’s foot and cracked heels

Psoriasis and eczema aren’t the only skin conditions that can dry out your skin and cause you to itch. Athlete’s foot can as well. This is a fungal infection that causes dry, scaly skin. If left untreated, it can lead to deep cracks.

However, unlike psoriasis and eczema, athlete's foot is very contagious. You can contract it from walking barefoot in communal areas, like locker rooms and public showers. That's why health officials recommend wearing flip-flops or other shoes when walking around these areas.

Standing For Long Periods

The longer you stand, the more pressure you put on your feet, which can eventually cause cracks. This is especially true when standing on hard surfaces like concrete or tile.

If you have a job that requires you to stand for long periods, make it a point to sit down on your breaks to give your feet a few moments of relief.

The Weather

Cold weather and low humidity levels are major contributors to dry skin. Then, when you add in the drying effects of indoor heating, it’s a recipe for dry, cracked feet.

But winter isn’t the only time of year when the weather might cause cracks. In the summer, when it’s hot, your feet sweat more. If you wear socks with sweaty feet, you’re trapping moisture. While that sounds like it’d be beneficial for dry skin, it can actually make it worse.

Plus, summer is the season for sandals and bare feet, which, as we already mentioned, can cause cracks.

No matter the season, extreme temperatures take a toll on your heels.

Poor Hygiene

Your feet need to be adequately cleaned and moisturized, just like the rest of your body. If you neglect to wash and exfoliate your feet, dead skin cells can build up and cause dryness.

While your feet might be easy to ignore, doing so puts you at a greater risk of cracked heels.

Your Gait

Heels can crack under pressure. If your foot hits the ground abnormally due to an odd gait pattern, you’re at risk for developing cracks.

For example, people with high arches or flat feet tend to distribute their body weight unevenly, causing more pressure on the edges of their heels. This pressure can cause calluses and, eventually, cracks.

And if you already have cracked heels, you may find yourself walking differently to avoid putting pressure on the painful areas. This can lead to a vicious cycle, as your altered gait can cause more cracks.

Medical Conditions

Some medical problems, such as diabetes, Sjögren's syndrome, and hypothyroidism, can all contribute to heel cracks. If you suspect you may have one of these conditions, consult a doctor for an official diagnosis and proper treatment.

How To Treat Cracked Heels

Woman applying moisturizer to cracked heels

No matter what’s causing your cracked heels, it’s important to treat the damaged skin. Otherwise, the condition can get worse and may eventually lead to other problems.

The good news is that you can often treat cracked heels at home. It’ll just take an intentional foot care routine, consistency, and time.

Here are some effective ways to reduce the cracks and enjoy smoother skin.

Take Short, Warm Showers

The steam from hot showers may feel good, but it can make dry skin worse. Stick to short, warm showers, and bathe your feet with lukewarm water.

This practice isn’t just good for your heels, either. Taking shorter, cooler showers also helps protect your skin from head to toe.

Use The Right Cleanser

While you’re in the shower, take time to wash your feet. Just letting the soapy water hit them as it runs off your body won’t cut it. You need to keep your feet clean so they can heal.

As you’re washing your feet, avoid soaps with chemicals that might irritate your skin. Instead, look for cleansers specifically designed for dry skin. You want one that contains hydrating ingredients, like shea butter or almond oil.

Once you have the right cleaner, use it carefully. Scrubbing your feet until they bleed isn’t a good solution. Instead, gently apply the product and then rinse thoroughly.

Apply Moisturizer Regularly

As mentioned above, dry skin can lead to cracks. To treat your heels and prevent future problems, you must regularly get more moisture into your skin. Choose a thick moisturizing cream or ointment, and apply it after every shower.

In addition, if you have psoriasis or eczema, use a product designed for those conditions. For example, our Eczema Daily Calming Cream can help soothe and hydrate your eczema patches.

Regardless of which moisturizer you use, apply it regularly, even after your cracks have healed. This can help keep your heels soft for years to come.

Use Liquid Bandages

Walking around with cracks in your skin can leave you vulnerable to infection. It’s like a welcome mat for all the bacteria your feet encounter.

To protect your heels and promote healing, apply a thin layer of liquid bandage. Often, this type of product lasts for several days before dissolving, but you’ll want to read the label carefully and apply as directed.

Wear The Right Shoes

Shoes are an important part of your treatment plan. Wear shoes that fit properly and have thick soles that lift your heels up out of the dirt.

If you want to wear sandals, look for ones with full-foot coverage or back straps to protect your heel area.

And if you're going to walk around in public places, always wear some sort of foot covering. Even thin flip-flops can help keep you safe from the germs that cause athlete's foot.

Gently Exfoliate

Woman exfoliating her foot with a pumice stones

Dead skin cells tend to pile up on the heel, creating a thick, rough layer. To remove this layer, you can use a loofah or pumice stone to gently exfoliate your feet in the shower.

But be careful not to scrub too hard. Otherwise, you can cause more damage to your skin. Instead of forceful, back-and-forth motions, aim for light, circular ones.

When exfoliating, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Soak Your Feet First

Before you begin, soak your feet in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes. This will soften the skin in the area and make it easier to remove the dry, dead patches.

Don’t Remove Too Much Skin

It might be tempting to try and remove all of the cracked skin at once.

However, this can cause more harm than good. It weakens your skin’s natural barrier and can leave your feet vulnerable to infection. It can also cause additional pain that you’ll have to deal with until more skin grows in.

Save The Cheese Grater For Your Food

You can buy rasps for your feet that resemble little cheese graters. While these effectively remove calluses, it’s easy to go too deep when using one. So unless you’re a professional, it’s best to leave the cheese grater in the kitchen.

Be Consistent

One exfoliation session won’t be enough to heal your heels completely. You need to get in the habit of exfoliating to see lasting results.

Ideally, you’ll do this a couple of times each week. But once a week is better than nothing. Find a routine that works for you and stick with it.

Apply A Thick Moisturizer Before Bed

At night, apply a thick moisturizer to your feet and put on some clean, dry socks. This helps lock the moisture in and leaves your heels feeling soft and hydrated when you wake up.

Being consistent with this routine is key. You may be tempted to skip this step, especially when you’re tired after a long day. But prioritizing your foot care routine does make a difference.

When To See A Doctor For Cracked Heels

Most of the time, you can treat cracked heels at home with lifestyle changes and simple remedies. But it's time to see a doctor if the cracks start to bleed or get worse despite your best efforts.

Here are some other signs that might indicate professional help is needed:

  • Cracked skin in other places besides your heels
  • Severe pain
  • A burning, itchy sensation, especially if you've recently gone barefoot in a public place
  • Signs of infection (as mentioned above)
  • Anything that concerns you

Your doctor can evaluate your condition and look for possible underlying health conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, or diabetes. A specific diagnosis could alter the course of your treatment plan.

While you’re at the doctor, they may also prescribe stronger ointments or creams to apply to your cracked heels. Always use any prescription products as directed.

They could also use a special tool to shave some dead skin off to help your heels look better. You don’t want to do this type of treatment at home since it’s easy to shave off too much and get an infection.

How To Prevent Cracked Heels From Returning

Woman with smooth heels

Following the skincare tips above can transform your heels from cracked to smooth. But unfortunately, if you aren’t consistent in your foot care, the cracks will return before too long.

To help keep your heels — and the rest of your feet — in good condition, implement a simple routine for regular care.

Daily Foot Care

Your feet work hard for you all day. The least you can do is give them a little love and attention each day.

In addition to wearing supportive shoes with socks, here are a few simple steps to integrate into your daily skincare routine.

  • Wash your feet with warm water and gentle cleanser
  • Dry gently but thoroughly
  • Apply a moisturizer, paying extra attention to any dry or cracked areas
  • Use products designed for any skin conditions you have, such as our Eczema Daily Calming Cream On-the-Go

If you’ve noticed that your eczema flare-ups coincide with exposure to specific materials, foods, or environmental conditions, you’ve likely identified at least one of your triggers.

Twice-A-Week Foot Care

While you don’t need to do these steps every day, you do want to do them a couple of times each week.

  • Inspect your feet carefully for any damage or cracks
  • Soak your feet for 10 minutes in warm, soapy water
  • Exfoliate using a pumice stone or foot
  • Apply a thick moisturizer and wear socks to help it stay in place as your feet absorb it

Weekly Foot Care

Pick one day a week to dedicate to some extra foot care. The tasks below won’t take too long, but they can make a big difference.

  • Trim and file your toenails
  • Add 3 cups of Epsom salt to a tub of warm water and soak your feet for 15 minutes
  • Apply a thick moisturizer after the soak
  • Give yourself a foot massage to improve circulation and reduce tension

Monthly Foot Care

Here are a couple of tasks to do once a month. They’ll help keep your feet healthy and happy.

  • Inspect your shoes to make sure they still offer the support you need
  • Treat yourself to an at-home pedicure

At first, it may feel strange to spend so much time caring for your feet. But once you get into the habit, it’ll become second nature. And as you see results, you’ll be even more motivated to keep it up.

Softer Heels Are In Your Future

Woman with soft heels

Cracked heels can be a frustrating and painful condition. However, with the right lifestyle changes and treatments, you can keep your feet soft and crack-free.

Be sure to wear footwear that protects this part of your foot, and apply moisturizer regularly. If eczema plays a role in your cracked skin, use our Eczema Daily Calming Cream for relief of symptoms caused by that condition.

With the right treatment plan, you'll be saying goodbye to your cracked skin before you know it and doing the things you love with feet that feel great!

Sources

American Academy of Dermatology Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
John Hopkins Medicine
Penn Medicine

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