Dry feet are a constant problem, especially in the winter months we're just leaving in our wake. 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, and they are all exacerbated by cold weather—we put on central heating, which dries up our skin; we turn up the heat in our shower, sucking up our moisture; and conditions like peripheral neuropathy (which affects circulation) may be made worse by sudden temperature drops.
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, you’ll likely notice some flaking of the skin and, if things progress too far, cracks may become deep enough to start bleeding. That can be particularly dangerous if you have diabetes, since any type of wound could put your foot health in peril.
4 Ways to Prevent or Repair Cracked Heels
Since you know your feet are likely to become dry during winter, take precautionary measures:
1. Try to apply a thick moisturizer, like Vaseline, once or twice a day to your feet. At night, lather your heels up before bed, then slip on loose, cotton socks to 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. After the pedicure, give yourself a mini-foot massage, focusing 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, just like dry skin does, so aim to take in 8 glasses of H20 a day (more if you exercise vigorously.)
4. Think about your shoe choices. Did you know that too-tight shoes can actually irritate your heels, making them more vulnerable to cracks? The same is true if stiff footwear, like leather boots. So, if cracked heels are a chronic problem for you, consider switching to shoes made of softer fabrics, like Nike flex knits or All Birds.
Need more help? Let's talk moisturizers.
Need more help? Let's talk moisturizers.While many people use creams and lotions to moisturize the skin, some only do so when there is discomfort and cracking from the dry skin. Others buy what’s on sale without learning if it's the right solution for them. As a Houston podiatrist, I am exposed to many different creams and lotions. The following are my recommendation for over the counter creams and lotions.
Foot Lotions vs. Creams: What's the Difference?
A lotion is a good selection for mild dryness on the top of the foot, around the ankles and on the legs. It is not suitable for the thicker skin on the bottom of the foot, especially not the heels. Lotions are a thinner vehicle for moisture and do not penetrate the skin as deeply. Using a lotion does certainly have an appropriate place in foot health. While there are many lotions available in the grocery stores, physician's offices, and pharmacies, the only lotion I recommend is Amerigel Care Lotion. Available online and in many pharmacies, this lotion has 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 is one of the few lotions that can eliminate the pigmentation that many find on their legs.
Unlike lotions, there are several creams that I recommend. Each serves a particular purpose. For maintenance, when there is not a particular issue with dryness and the skin of the feet is generally healthy, both Eucerin cream and Cetaphil cream can be used with excellent results. Both are widely available in pharmacies and grocery stores.
There is many times where feet become dry and rough when an “off the shelf” solution doesn’t work well enough. The first line of defense is a stronger moisturizing cream. Foot Miracle, by Straight Arrow, is a cream that absorbs well into the skin to treat dry and rough areas of the skin. Using it twice a day will condition the skin and keep it from drying and cracking. There are some who still need another level of hydration. For those I recommend Gormel Crème, by Gordon Labs. Gormel Crème contains 20% Urea, which adds elasticity to the skin to make it supple by drawing upon the body’s own moisture. It also helps to prevent and treat painful cracking and splitting skin.
And, though I will always be an advocate for moisturizing your feet regularly, sometimes that is not enough. That's why I'm also a hardcore fan of the Adessa Moisturizing Gel Socks.
Adessa Moisturizing Gel Socks are a soft sock with a gel lining from heel to toe. The gel is infused with vitamins, nutrients, and essential oils to restore the soft appearance of your feet. The socks can be used after applying cream or just used on their own.
Since making Adessa Moisturizing Gel Socks available to our patients a few years ago, we've been hearing rave reviews. People who constantly had cracking heels find that they are healing and staying healed. People who always forget to apply cream to their feet find it much easier to slip the socks on daily. We have patients buying the socks for other family members and to give as gifts.
Stop by our office to see for yourself. We will be happy to show you a sample so you can see and feel for yourself. Of course, if your dry, cracked feet are causing you pain, be sure to contact Tanglewood Foot Specialists for an immediate appointment.