Cracked skin can be painful. Learn what causes this condition, treatment options, and how to keep it from returning so your skin stays soft and smooth.

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Cracked Skin: Causes, Treatment, And Prevention

06/09/20238 min read

Do you suffer from cracked skin? If so, you are not alone. Many people experience dry, itchy, and painful cracks on their skin, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Thankfully, you can heal the cracks and restore your skin to its former glory.

Once your skin is healthy-looking again, you can take steps to prevent the cracks from coming back. Read on if you're ready to learn more about cracked skin and how you may be able to get rid of it for good.

Table Of Contents

The Science Of Cracked Skin

Three layers of healthy skin

One of the best ways to heal and prevent cracked skin is to first get to know how your skin works. Doing so can help you dial in the treatments so that cracked skin doesn’t stick around for long and doesn’t come back once it’s gone.

Healthy Skin

Your skin is made up of three main layers. Moving from the outside to the inside, those layers are the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis.

Each of those three layers can be further subdivided into smaller layers, but we only need to focus on one: the stratum corneum (commonly called the skin barrier).

The stratum corneum is the topmost layer of the epidermis and is the part of your skin exposed to the air around you. In simplest terms, it’s the part of your skin you see with the naked eye.

The stratum corneum is made up of special cells called keratinocytes that help the epidermis repair itself after damage. Those same cells also produce proteins that help protect your skin from UV damage.

Covering the entire surface of the stratum corneum is a layer of moisture, fat, and wax called the hydrolipidic barrier.

The hydrolipidic barrier serves two important functions. It helps keep toxins like dirt, dust, pollen, pet dander, and other irritants away from the stratum corneum. And it helps prevent moisture from evaporating out of the epidermis.

In most cases, your hydrolipidic barrier and the keratinocytes underneath will function normally without any help at all. But, sometimes, the hydrolipidic barrier can get thin or disappear in spots altogether.

When that happens, irritants can get in and moisture can get out. That’s when dry, cracked skin can rear its ugly head.

Cracked Skin

Think of the hydrolipidic barrier as a lid on top of a pot of boiling water. The lid prevents the steam from escaping into the air. If the lid has a hole in it or doesn’t cover the pot completely, the steam will find a way out.

In the same way, the hydrolipidic barrier prevents moisture from escaping out of the stratum corneum into the air. If the hydrolipidic barrier has a hole in it or doesn’t cover the stratum corneum completely, moisture will find a way out.

What are the results? Dry skin.

But the problems don’t end there. Not only does a faulty or damaged hydrolipidic barrier let moisture out, but it also lets irritants in.

So, while dry skin might not sound that bad, left long enough, toxins from the air around you can further irritate your stratum corneum and prevent it from repairing itself. That can lead to cracked skin.

Common Ways Your Skin Barrier Can Become Damaged

Woman enjoying the sun outdoors

As we mentioned, in most cases, your skin barrier will function effectively without any outside help from you.

But, under certain conditions, one or both parts of the skin barrier can get damaged, making it easier for irritants to get in and moisture to get out.

The most common ways your skin barrier can get damaged are:

  • Sun exposure: Too much sun can weaken the hydrolipidic barrier and lead to dryness and eventual cracking.
  • Hot water: Long, hot showers or baths can strip away the hydrolipidic barrier and allow irritants to get in and moisture to get out.
  • Harsh ingredients: Some skin care products contain chemicals that can weaken the hydrolipidic barrier and can damage the cells in the stratum corneum.
  • Exfoliation: While some exfoliation is good, aggressive scrubbing can actually remove the protective layer and damage the skin cells underneath.
  • Stress: When you’re under prolonged stress, your skin can become more sensitive and prone to infection.
  • Allergens: Common allergens, such as pollen, dust, smoke, and pet dander, can cause irritation and lead to dry, cracked skin if not managed properly.
  • Injuries: Any time you get a scratch or a cut, foreign substances, such as the common allergens mentioned above, can come in contact with your skin making it more vulnerable to infection.

We’ll discuss these and other causes of cracked skin in more detail later on in this article.

But first, let’s investigate the symptoms of cracked skin so you can identify when something might be going wrong and head it off at the pass before it gets worse.

Symptoms Of Cracked Skin

A foot with cracked skin on the heel

Common signs you may be suffering from cracked skin include:

  • Flaking
  • Intense itchiness
  • Redness or discoloration
  • Pain in the impacted area or skin that’s tender to the touch
  • Oozing or bleeding visible cracks in your skin

If you notice any of these, then you may be dealing with cracked skin.

Where Does Cracked Skin Appear?

Cracked skin can appear on any body area, although it is most common on the hands and feet. You may also see cracks around your nails or in areas exposed to moisture or friction. The face, elbows, knees, and legs are also prone to cracked skin.

Causes Of Cracked Skin

Now that we know what cracked skin looks like, let's discuss why it happens. Below are a few potential culprits.

Environmental Conditions

The weather can affect your skin's condition. Prolonged exposure to cold and dry air can dry your skin and make it more vulnerable to cracking. Extreme temperatures and harsh winds can also contribute to this condition.

Overexposure To Water

Woman soaking in a tub

Though you want your skin to stay moist, being in the water too often or for too long can have a drying effect on your skin. Water submersion strips your skin of its natural oils, creating the perfect environment for cracking.

This is why you might experience cracks on your hands during cold and flu season when you're more likely to wash your hands frequently.

Dry Skin

When your skin is already dry, it is more prone to cracking. Dry patches can be caused by anything from age to genetics, a lack of moisturizer, or even hormonal changes.


Some skin conditions, such as eczema, can also cause cracked skin. Eczema tends to make your skin dry and irritated, which can lead to cracks.


Man with psoriasis on his arms

Psoriasis is another skin condition that can lead to cracked skin. Psoriasis causes your body to produce too many skin cells, which creates thick and scaly patches on your skin’s surface. These patches are prone to cracking and bleeding if not managed properly.


Though it’s primarily considered an endocrine disorder, diabetes can also cause skin problems. High blood sugar levels can damage your body's small blood vessels and reduce your skin's moisture. This can lead to dryness and cracking in some areas.

If you have diabetes, it's also essential to get medical care for any calluses or corns on your feet. If you don’t, the thick skin in these areas can open and turn into deep cracks that can become infected quickly.

Athlete’s Foot

This fungal infection can cause cracked and painful skin, especially between the toes. It is essential to treat this condition quickly to minimize the damage it can do to your skin.

Contact With An Irritant

Sometimes, cracked skin is caused by coming into contact with an irritant. This could include perfume, lotion, or even clothing detergent with harsh ingredients.

If you start to notice any signs of cracked skin after using a new product or changing your laundry routine, it might be worth looking into.

Healing Skin Cracks

Now that you know some of the causes of cracked skin, let’s talk about how you can improve it.

Apply Moisturizer

One of the best ways to heal cracked skin is by applying a gentle moisturizer. Look for one with ingredients that are designed to restore your skin's natural barrier and lock in moisture.

Once you find a quality moisturizer, apply it regularly. Use the product immediately after washing your hands or taking a bath to give your skin some extra love.

Try Home Remedies

If you prefer a DIY approach, here are three simple home remedies.

Oatmeal Bath

Add a cup of powdered, colloidal oatmeal to your bathwater for an extra-gentle soak. Just remember not to stay in the water for too long. Only soak for 10-15 minutes so you don’t accidentally cause more damage to your skin.

Honey Mask

Honey is a natural humectant that helps your skin retain moisture. If your face is cracked, use raw honey as a mask and leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing with warm water.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a terrific choice for many skin conditions, including cracking. Slather it on cracked areas to get some relief and lock in moisture.

If you don't like the greasy feeling, look for moisturizers that contain coconut oil as an ingredient.

Use Topical Creams

Woman applying cream to cracked heels

If your skin is particularly dry or cracked, you may need to use a topical cream with stronger ingredients. Look for creams containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides to help restore the moisture barrier.

Treat Other Conditions

If you're dealing with a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, treating it can help improve your cracked skin. For eczema, try our line of eczema products. They're formulated to help improve your skin over time.

For example, our Eczema Daily Calming Cream is a thick moisturizing cream that can help reduce itch and irritation caused by eczema.

Seek Medical Advice

If you’re noticing any signs of cracking that aren’t improving with home treatment, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe an ointment or cream to help heal the cracks and prevent infections, such as cellulitis.

And, of course, if you notice any worsening pain, swelling, or redness in the area, get to a doctor right away. These are all signs of infection; you may need antibiotics or other medications to help clear it up.

Preventing Cracked Skin

Once you get your skin back into shape, it’s essential to prevent cracked skin from returning. Here are four simple tips:

Cover The Area

Woman bundled up in the winter

If you know an area of your body is prone to cracking, try covering it when you’re outside. For example, wear socks and shoes on concrete or hard surfaces to reduce friction. Or wear gloves when it's cold out to protect your hands from chilly temperatures.

Choose Gentle Products

When shopping for skincare products, look for gentle formulas that won't dry out or irritate your skin. Avoid fragrances, dyes, and witch hazel, as these can be too harsh for sensitive skin.

You'll also want to pay attention to the ingredients in your cleaners and laundry detergents. Make sure they're free from harmful chemicals, such as bleach, that can strip your skin of its natural oils and cause skin irritation.

Run A Humidifier

Dry air often plays a role in cracked skin. To help keep the air moist, consider running a humidifier in your home or office. Not only will it help keep your skin hydrated, but it may also make breathing easier.

Ideally, you'll want the relative humidity in the room to stay between 30-50%. Many modern HVAC units come with a humidifier setting, so check your owner’s manual to see how you can adjust the humidity level.

Make Simple Lifestyle Changes

Some of your daily habits may contribute to cracked skin. So, it’s good to look at what you’re doing to see if there are any changes you can make.

For example, if you're a big fan of long, hot showers or baths, try reducing the water temperature and limiting your shower time. Doing this will help keep your skin’s natural oils intact.

You can also make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day (more on this later) and eat a healthy diet rich in good fats. These changes will help keep your skin hydrated.

Your sleep routine also matters. Getting enough rest may help keep your body and skin functioning properly, while too little sleep can contribute to dryness and inflammation.

Get In The Habit Of Reading Labels

Young woman reading a product label

Get in the habit of reading the labels of anything that might come in contact with your skin.

We touched on this in the Choose Gentle Products section earlier in this article, but it’s worth discussing in more detail because of the profound benefit it can have on your skincare regimen and your efforts to prevent cracked skin.

When reading labels, avoid products that contain parabens and sulfates. These chemicals can strip away your skin’s natural oils (the hydrolipidic barrier) and set you up to develop dry skin.

Opt for products that contain skin-friendly ingredients, such as:

These ingredients add moisture to your skin — and help it stay there — without causing any undue irritation that might lead to dry, cracked skin.

Hydrate Your Skin From Within

Adding moisture to the surface of your skin is a great way to keep dryness and cracks at bay. But, for true prevention, you also need to hydrate your skin from within.

What does that entail? Drinking plenty of water!

Your body needs water to function properly. If it doesn’t get enough, it will use the water it does have for essential purposes. These essential purposes, unfortunately, don’t always include maintaining a healthy skin barrier.

Give your body plenty to work with by striving to drink at least eight cups of water every day. If you’re active or live in a hot climate, you may need to drink even more than that.

Try Probiotics And Supplements

You may have heard of probiotics as a way to improve gut health. But did you know that probiotics can also help restore your hydrolipidic barrier and strengthen the skin underneath?

Consuming foods that are high in probiotics — such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut — is an easy way to give your skin a boost from the inside. If those foods aren’t to your liking, you may also consider taking a probiotic supplement (but be sure to consult a doctor first).

But you can also include products that contain probiotics in your daily skincare regimen as a way to reduce irritation from the outside.

While we’re on the subject of making your skin as healthy as possible from the inside out, you might also consider adding skin-friendly vitamins and minerals to your diet.

These include:

  • Fish oil
  • Black currant seed oil
  • Fern extract
  • Ashwagandha
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Curcumin
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

You can, of course, consume more of these vitamins and minerals by eating foods that contain them. Or, you can take supplements.

Talk to your doctor to find out what’s right for you.

Protect Your Skin From The Sun

Man applying sunscreen

To keep your skin as healthy as possible, protect it from the sun by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you’re going to be outside or in an area where sun exposure is likely (including vehicles and spaces with lots of windows).

Even when it’s cloudy outside or you’re in a space where sunlight is prominent, it’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen because UV rays (both UVA and UVB) can pass through clouds and window glass to reach your skin.

Select a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for the best protection. These minerals create a physical barrier that reflects UV rays and can help keep your skin healthy.

Be sure to reapply at least once a day even if you’re inside.

Manage Stress

Many people don’t realize that stress can increase skin sensitivity, trigger problems like acne and eczema, and affect your skin just like external irritants.

To help keep your skin as healthy as possible, do your best to manage stress with one or more of these activities:

  • Spend time in nature
  • Take a yoga class
  • Get a massage
  • Listen to music
  • Read a good book

If you find that your stress persists, there may be some underlying issues involved. Try talking to a therapist, making a lifestyle change, changing jobs, or improving the relationships in your life.

Get Plenty Of Sleep

Did you know that while you sleep, your body is still hard at work repairing any damage it may have experienced during the day?

That’s why getting enough quality sleep — from seven to eight hours — is essential for healthy skin.

If you find it difficult to achieve that much uninterrupted downtime, try these suggestions for a better night’s sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends)
  • Establish a routine that encourages your body to relax before bed
  • Avoid screens (e.g., TV, computer, phone, tablet) for at least an hour before you lie down
  • Create a cool, dark, and quiet environment that's conducive to sleep
  • Exercise during the day to help relax your body
  • Write in a journal to help quiet your mind

If you’ve tried all of these things and still can’t get a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor about other options.

Hit The Road, Cracks, And Don’t Come Back!

A person with dry, cracked skin on their hands

Cracked skin doesn't have to be a permanent fixture in your life. You can keep it at bay with the right treatment and lifestyle changes, and then get on with your life.

If eczema is contributing to your cracked skin, you may want to consider choosing Bodewell products to help. With gentle ingredients that rely on plant-based healing power, you'll notice better skin over time.

Say goodbye to cracks and hello to healthier-looking skin!


American Academy of Dermatology Association
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
NHS Inform

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