With the colder weather, we have seen an increase in very dry feet here at Feet First Podiatry. Dry, cracked heels are the most frequent concern. If these cracks, called fissures, become severe, they may cause bleeding, infection and pain when standing or walking.
What causes dry, cracked heels?
While one of the main causes of dry, cracking skin is the arid winter air, other factors can impact heels. Common problems that contribute to heel fissures include but are not limited to:
- Psoriasis or other skin-related conditions
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid disease
- Vitamin deficiency
- Excess weight
Skin loses its ability to stretch with age, so cracks are more common as you get older. Diabetes can interrupt the body’s ability to produce oils, making the skin less supple and more susceptible to extreme dryness.
Disease and disorders such as athlete’s foot, psoriasis, eczema, and thyroid disease may cause cracked heels. Excess weight can create extra pressure on the feet.
Prolonged standing in ill-fitting shoes can become a problem due to added pressure. Poorly structured feet can sometimes lead to abnormal gait that produces calluses to the heel. Water, especially running water, can rob the skin of its natural oils and this can leave the skin dry and rough. Deficiency of vitamins, minerals and zinc can lead to skin breakdown as well.
Don’t feel alone, this is a very common problem and here are some tips that may help:
1. Heels will move around in shoes and boots that are too big. This causes friction which forms dry calluses around the ridges and surface of the heels. Make sure your shoes and boots are properly sized so that heels don’t move but at the same time, toes have wiggle room.
2. Wash feet daily with warm, soapy water. Don’t use hot water because it dries out skin. Hot water is also harmful to diabetics and anyone else with impaired circulation to the feet.
3. Exfoliate the feet, especially the heels, while washing. Use a wash cloth, pumice stone, or loofah and rub the skin gently to slough off dead skin.
4. Dry the feet thoroughly. Dry well between the toes since fungus and bacteria like to grow in warm, moist, dark places.
5. Moisturize daily with body lotion. If you feel you need something more emollient, ask the pharmacist to recommend an over-the-counter body lotion that contains urea. Urea is naturally present in skin cells, but in dry skin, urea levels are lower. Using a lotion that has urea increases the skin’s ability to hold in moisture. Avoid moisturizer between the toes. Be sure to wear cotton socks.
6. Foot soaks are relaxing and helpful if done properly. Limit foot soaks to 10 – 15 minutes, 3 times a week. Soaking for long periods dries out the skin. Use a solution of 1/4 cup white vinegar and enough warm, never hot, water to cover the feet up to the ankles. Mild acetic acid in vinegar softens dry skin. Exfoliate. Dry thoroughly. Moisturize. Put on clean cotton socks.
7. For an overnight treatment, try the following: massage olive oil mixed with a bit of white vinegar or lemon juice over the feet, concentrating on the heels. Honey is a natural moisturizer so if you want, put some in your mixture. Put on cotton socks. In the morning, wash it off. Exfoliate. Dry thoroughly. Moisturize.
8. Over-the-counter callus softeners often contain ingredients that irritate the skin.