Dry and cracked heels are a constant problem, especially in the winter months. Even here in Houston, where we have high humidity, our skin gets dry. Add to that open shoes and sandals that invite dust and dirt onto our feet and they're drying even more. This can lead to cracking, bleeding, and pain. For people with diabetes, it is dangerous as it increases the chance of a foot infection.

Why do Feet Start Cracking

There are a lot of reasons why our heels tend to crack. (Medically, we call these cracks fissures.) And they all get worse with cold weather. Because we put on central heating, which dries up our skin. Or we turn up the heat in our shower, sucking up our skin's moisture. And then, if we have peripheral neuropathy, sudden temperature drops makes things worse. Which is a problem, because the condition affects your circulation. And, by extension, your skin health.

Sadly, that's not all: changes in your hormones can lead to cracks in your skin. As you get older, your oil-producing glands also stop working as well. At the same time, your elastin protein levels drop, so your skin becomes drier. Then, if you have eczema or psoriasis, your feet are more likely to develop cracks regardless of your age. Finally, changes in your skin surfaces, like built up callouses, up your risk for cracks. 

You’ll know that your heels are getting into cracking territory if the skin in the area becomes thick and rough. Your feet may start to itch because of severe dryness. Next, you’ll likely notice some flaking of the skin. And, if things go too far, cracks may become deep enough to start bleeding. That can be particularly dangerous if you have diabetes. Because any type of wound could put your foot health in peril.

 Dry and Cracked Heels Treatment: 7 Things to Try Right NowA home foot massage with vaseline can help prevent cracked feet

Now you know your feet are likely to become dry during winter. So you know it's important to take precautionary measures:

1. Apply a thick moisturizer, like Vaseline, once or twice daily to your feet. At night, lather your heels up before bed. Then slip on loose, cotton socks. That will trap the moisture in while you sleep, without cutting off circulation.

2. Try giving yourself a home pedicure—soak your feet in warm, soapy water. Add Epsom salts to that soak for extra soothing, and a bit of self-care. Then, slough off dead skin cells with a CLEAN (sterile) foot file, or a special exfoliation product. After the pedicure, give yourself a mini-foot massage. Really focus on your heels and the balls of your feet, to help encourage better circulation. Note: this is a good time for one of your moisturizing sessions, but more about that in a minute. 

3. Focus on your daily water intake. Dehydration can cause or exacerbate heel cracks. (It works like dry skin does.) So aim to take in 8 glasses of H20 a day (more if you exercise.)

4. Think about your shoe choices. Did you know that too-tight shoes can actually irritate your heels? And that makes them more vulnerable to cracks? The same is true of stiff footwear, like leather boots. So, if cracked heels are a chronic problem, think about switching to shoes made of softer fabrics. We like Nike flex knits or Allbirds for their soft feel. 

5. And don't forget your socks! Look for pairs that wick sweat and moisture away from your feet, since wet, clammy, feet are more prone to drying and cracking.

6. Invest in a humidifier for your home, to add more moisture to your environment. (And help it stay in your feet, where you need it!) 

7. Skip the long hot shower. Extended time in this hot, humid environment will only make cracking worse. 

Need more help? Let's talk moisturizers. Many people use creams and lotions to moisturize the skin daily. But some only do so when they notice pain or cracking. And others? They buy what’s on sale without learning if it's the right solution for them. Our Houston podiatrist sees many different creams and lotions. The following are his recommendations for over-the-counter creams and lotions.

Foot Lotions vs. Creams: What's the Difference?

dry and cracked feet treatment

A lotion is a good selection for mild dryness on the top of your foot, around the ankles and on your legs. But it won't work on the thicker skin on the bottom of your foot. And especially not on your heels.

Why is that the case? Lotions are a thinner vehicle for moisture; they don't deeply penetrate the skin. Now, there is a place for lotion in the foot health world. But there's only one lotion we recommend: Amerigel Care Lotion. It's available online and in many pharmacies. And it's got properties that no others have. It contains Oakin, a natural ingredient that exfoliates dry skin, fights bacterial and fungal infection, and reduces skin inflammation. It's also one of the few lotions that gets rid of leg pigmentation that often comes with aging.

Unlike lotions, there are several creams we recommend. Each serves a particular purpose. If you don't have any problems, both Eucerin and Cetaphil cream give excellent results. And both are available in pharmacies and grocery stores. But there are many times where feet are so dry and rough that an “off the shelf” solution won't work. That's when you need a stronger moisturizing cream. Try Foot Miracle, by Straight Arrow, a cream that absorbs well into your skin, treating dry and rough areas. Using it twice a day will condition the skin and keep it from drying and cracking.

Still, some feet another level of hydration. If that's you, try Gormel Crème, by Gordon Labs. It contains 20% Urea, which adds elasticity to the skin so it can drawing upon the body’s own moisture. It also helps to prevent and treat painful cracking and splitting skin.

Finally, you made to look beyond topicals. That's why we also like the Adessa Moisturizing Gel Socks. These are soft socks with a gel lining from heel to toe. They infuse the gel with vitamins, nutrients, and essential oils, helping restore your feet's soft appearance. And, you can use the socks cafter applying cream, or on their own. So versatile!

This product earned rave reviews from many of our patients. People with chronic cracking heels finally shared success stories. And people who always forget to apply cream to their feet find it much easier to slip the socks on daily. In short, it makes daily foot care an easy part of your routine. And that's something we all need right now.

Of course, not even the most layered care routine is perfect. So, if your skin looks close to cracking, don't wait around hoping for things to change. Doing so could leave you with bleeding feet and dangerous infections. Instead, make an immediate appointment with Dr. Schneider. We'll provide quick pain relief, helping your feet look and feel their best.