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What Causes Cracked Dry Heels?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Cracked dry heels, also called heel fissures, have many causes. The main sign of this problem is hard skin over the heel area that has noticeable cracks, and the skin color may be darkened or yellowed. Flaky or peeling skin may also be present and pain or itchiness is common. The causes include psoriasis, eczema, athlete's foot, diabetic neuropathy, air conditioning, open backed shoes, pressure from standing, and dry skin.

Dry skin, or xerosis, is the most common cause of cracked heels. Some people have naturally dry skin, and if it isn't moisturized so that it's soft and flexible, it becomes hard, tough, and easy to crack. The pressure created by standing only adds to the problem — especially if a person is overweight or spends a lot of time on his or her feet on hard floors.

Open-backed shoes can lead to heel problems because the heel pad of the foot is allowed to move around and spread out. Plus, if the foot is bare, the heel is exposed to drying environments such as those created by air conditioning systems. Excess heat in a home can also lead to drier skin and cracked heels.

Several medical conditions are also identified causes. Diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, is a complication of diabetes that may cause cracked heels if the nerves that control the sweat glands are affected. The feet don't sweat, so the skin becomes dry and hard. The fungus known as athlete's foot can also dry out the foot and cause fissures, or heel cracking. Chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis may also cause this problem.

Dry heels should be treated as they may bleed or become infected if the cracking is severe. It’s never a good idea to try to cut away the hardened skin on the heel without the advice of a medical professional as this may cause further injury and increase the possibility of infection. Using a pumice stone on the heels and applying moisturizing lotion to the area several times a day is usually recommended. Proper footwear with thick, supportive soles and a good fit that holds the heel in place may help reduce the problem. A foot specialist, or podiatrist, may suggest that a device to cup the heel be added to the patient's shoes.

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Discussion Comments
By anon347533 — On Sep 08, 2013

@lighth0se33: It may also have been bathing your heels in salt water (as I'm assuming they got sea water on them as well) that was the answer.

By Triumph777 — On Apr 07, 2013

I have been using a skin cream called Formula II for my dry cracked heels. It is truly a miracle cream and I would recommend it to anyone.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 25, 2013

I discovered how to heal dry cracked heels last summer by accident. I had been dealing with the problem for a couple of months before I went to the beach on vacation, and during the week I spent down there, the condition of my heels improved drastically.

The secret was walking on sand every day. Those grains served as a natural exfoliating agent, and they rubbed the dry skin right off my feet.

Most people don't have the option of walking on the beach barefoot every day, but I believe that you can achieve the same results somewhere near your home by walking on the sand near a lake. State parks usually have sand beaches in their swimming areas, and talking a walk on these might just work.

By orangey03 — On Feb 25, 2013

@seag47 – I do believe that air conditioning is the culprit. If your office is anything like mine, the thermostat is set so low that I freeze in July, so I feel like this extreme air conditioning contributes to my cracked, dry feet.

I could wear shoes with backs to protect my heels, but when I eat my lunch outside, my feet would sweat and I would burn up. I wear open-backed shoes in summer and deal with being cold indoors, because I'd rather be cold than hot.

By seag47 — On Feb 24, 2013

I didn't know that air conditioning could cause dry and cracked heels! Maybe this is why mine are always worse during the summer.

I figured that it was due to walking around barefoot or swimming in chlorinated water. It might just be the air in the office where I work!

I soak my feet while shaving my legs in the bathtub. Then, I use an exfoliating scrub on them. I massage it into my heels in a circular motion and wipe it off with a wash cloth.

By cloudel — On Feb 23, 2013

I have to wonder if maybe aging causes dry cracked heels. I never had a problem with this when I was younger, but now that I'm in my thirties, my heels stay dry and cracked, even though I apply lotion after I shower.

By anon139051 — On Jan 03, 2011

It blows me away that people are still wrapping their feet in plastic wrap! Invest in those new nitrile coated socks. I found them online. They really work!

By anon131870 — On Dec 04, 2010

I wanted to share this remedy with you that I just ran into online. I have gone ahead and added my own twist to this remedy, but with it, you can get rid of your cracked heels in three days. It may take some people up to a week, but for me, it worked in three days.

What you will need: Pumice stone; lotion; plastic wrap; socks.

Instructions: 1. You will begin by soaking your feet in warm water. You will want to also soak a pumice stone in warm water. After a minute or two, take the pumice

stone and gently use it to exfoliate your heels. Read the instructions for more information.

2. After a few minutes of gentle exfoliation, dry your feet. Apply a huge amount of lotion all over your feet. Afterward, take saran wrap and wrap it around your foot many times. Then, put on a sock.

3. You will leave this on overnight. I saw awesome results after the first day of using this.

By anon111729 — On Sep 17, 2010

I found a sock that makes all the suggestions work--SoleMates. I file my feet, put lotion on, and this sock holds it against my skin without reabsorbing it. It's no quick fix, but once you reach healthy skin, it is super easy to maintain. The company doesn't make extravagant claims, but what they do say is all true.

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