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One of the most satisfying parts about the transition from winter to spring is swapping your chunky boots for cute, breathable sandals. But the truth is, wearing open, unsupportive shoes can do a number on your feet. Having dry skin is bad enough, but when cracked heels come into the picture? Let’s just say walking around all day with painful fissures isn’t fun.
The good news is, treating your cracked heels doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, doctors encourage affordable home remedies to keep your feet in tip-top shape. Here, experts explain what causes cracked heels—and how to heal them safely.
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How To Do Pedicure At Home For Cracked Heels
Back up: What causes cracked heels?
While dry skin is the primary cause of cracked heels, it’s not the only culprit, according to the Institute for Preventive Foot Health:
- Prolonged standing, especially on hard floors
- Wearing shoes or sandals with open backs
- Having calluses
- Obesity, which increases pressure on the heels
- Skin conditions, such as athlete’s foot, psoriasis, or eczema
Some cracks are minor, but more severe cases can lead to bleeding, discomfort, and pain—especially if bacteria seeps into the fissures. That’s why it’s important to take care of the problem ASAP before things get worse.
How to heal dry, cracked heels
Here are some simple ways to soothe your cracked heels and give them some much-needed relief. You’ll be back on your feet and feeling good in no time.
First, up your water intake
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When you’re experiencing cracked heels, don’t just immediately tend to your feet—grab a water bottle, fill it up, and start guzzling. “Make sure you’re drinking enough water,” says Garrett Moore, DPM, DABPM, a podiatrist at UCHealth Stapleton Foot and Ankle Center. “Your skin can lose around a liter of water throughout the day—more in dry climates—so keeping yourself hydrated goes a long way toward preventing or soothing dry, cracked skin,” he says.
If you’re having problems getting your fix throughout the day, grab a good water bottle like this one from Hidrate Spark, which tracks your intake and glows as a reminder to keep drinking. Prefer to keep your drinks ice cold? These insulated water bottles won’t let you down.
Apply moisturizer consistently
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Whether you’re trying to prevent cracked heels or heal them, the solution is the same: stay moisturized. “Use a good moisturizer at least once a day, possibly more. While there are various moisturizers and barrier creams out there—and many reasons to use certain types—one of the biggest problems I run into with patients is lack of consistency,” Dr. Moore says. “Moisturizer needs to be applied to the feet daily—once in the morning and once at night before bed. This will help you keep fluids in your skin, minimize loss, and even attract more from the underlying tissues (or even the surrounding environment!). I’m partial to Aveeno for an over-the-counter product, and CeraVe and Lubriderm also get high marks.”
Consistency in the products you use is also important. According to Dr. Moore, choosing either lotions or creams—and sticking with that choice—will help prevent cracked heels.
Try petroleum jelly
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If you’re in need of heavy-duty hydration, occlusive products like petroleum jelly (often listed as petrolatum on the ingredients label) stay on the skin and form a protective barrier to prevent moisture loss, says Caroling Chang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Rhode Island Hospital and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board.
After applying your lotion or cream, add a thin layer of a petroleum jelly-based product, like Vaseline, to seal moisture into your cracked feet. Or, opt for a cream that already contains the ingredient, like CeraVe Healing Ointment.
Get intensive healing cream, if you need it
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Sometimes when your cracked heels are severe, normal lotions won’t do the trick—and that’s when you have to bring in the big guns. “If proper, frequent application of high-quality over-the-counter products isn’t preventing fissures, check with your doctor. Sometimes there can be a fungus exacerbating the problem,” Dr. Moore says. “If it’s truly just dry skin, we can prescribe emollients—such as ammonium lactate or urea cream—to get your skin healthy, then switch you to a lotion for maintaining that health.”
There are also options with urea you can get from the pharmacy without a prescription, but maybe not quite as strong. Roberta Del Campo, MD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, recommends Excipial 20% Urea Intensive Healing Cream, which works great, but might be more pricey than what you could get from your doc. “Urea is a keratolytic agent, meaning it helps to chemically exfoliate dead skin, leaving your feet soft and smooth. It’s not only great for callused feet, but it can also be used to smooth out rough elbows and knees,” she says.
Buy moisturizing socks
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If you want to go beyond just wearing your normal everyday socks to protect your heels, get some extra moisturizing benefits by grabbing a pair made especially for dry, cracked heels.
This option from NatraCure has a liner that uses aloe vera, vitamin E, and shea butter to intensely hydrate your skin. Just note that these aren’t your everyday socks, so they won’t feel soft and cozy. Instead, they’ll feel a bit rubbery at first, but the heat from your skin will activate the release of healing ingredients. The bonus? Your entire foot will reap the softening benefits—not just your heels.
Use a foot soak
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Dr. Engelman recommends soaking your feet before exfoliating calluses—but only after the cracks have healed. There are plenty of store-bought options—like this from Purely Northwest, which incorporates antibacterial tea tree oil—but you can also use items you already have right at home, such as milk and honey.
“This helps soften the skin so you’re not vigorously scrubbing. When it starts feeling sensitive, slow down as you don’t want to over-exfoliate,” she says.
Exfoliate with a pumice stone
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When you’re exfoliating after your foot soak, the best thing you can use is a pumice stone. “It helps keep any dry areas or calluses down. While calluses can be protective, when they get too thick, they can lose all flexibility and crack when you move,” Dr. Engelman says.
Just make sure you keep things clean. “If you use a pumice stone periodically—once every couple of weeks—soak the stone in some cleanser or bleach, then rinse it well. Those crevices that make it such a natural skin file can fill up with dead skin and provide a home for bacteria,” says Dr. Engelman.
Don’t peel or shave your calluses
When you notice your cracked heels peeling, it’s really hard not to pick at it—but it’s the worst thing you can do for the health of your feet. “Never try to peel off dead skin by hand, or attempt to shave a callus yourself. I call this ‘performing bathroom surgery,’ and it’s a great way to get a very bad infection,” Dr. Moore says.
In reality, your doctor should be the only one messing with your foot issues because they know exactly what they’re doing and won’t make the problem worse. “I’m using sterile instruments in a clean environment. I’m also able to see your feet at a much clearer angle to only remove what’s necessary without unwanted complications,” he explains.
Wear closed-back shoes
Since shoes and sandals with open backs can cause cracked heels—and make them worse!—make sure you have a trusty pair of closed options to wear when you’re having issues, even if that’s just some sneakers. “Protect the area by wearing closed-back shoes and socks,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. Check out our favorite walking shoes here.
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Are Your Feet Still Growing?
Are you wondering why you are wearing bigger shoes as you get older? Do you think you feet are getting bigger? Well, that is because they are getting bigger
Nearly 100% of us will need bigger shoes as we get older. Essentially what is happening is that over time our feet slowly flatten out. As they flatten, the arch lengthens and your feet get longer. In addition they splay out and your feet get wider.
Since your feet are getting bigger, you should be wearing larger shoes as you get older. If you are still wearing the same shoes you wore 10 years ago, we can pretty much guarantee that they are too small.
Besides Age, Why Else Do Feet Get Bigger?
1. Weight gain can cause feet to get bigger
If you are carrying extra weight, you are going to carry extra fat everywhere including around your feet with the result of larger feet.
2. Pregnancy can cause feet to get bigger
During pregnancy the same hormones that relax the ligaments of the birth canal also relax the ligaments in the rest of your body including the feet. Since the feet are carrying extra load during pregnancy due to normal weight gain, the feet will often flatten leading to lengthening and widening of the feet.
How to Stop Your Feet from Getting Bigger
There may not be a way to completely stop your feet from getting bigger. But you may be able to slow the progression. Below are our best suggestions of what you can do to combat the flattening of the foot that occurs with aging, weight gain and pregnancy.
Please read this important disclosure about the products recommended in this article.
1. Use arch supports in your shoes
By using arch support to stop the flattening of the feet you may be able to stop or slow the splay that leads to feet getting bigger. The key is to get an arch support that conforms very close to the arch of foot. The closer it grabs your arch the better it will be at stopping your foot from flattening and splaying. Another way to look at this is to wear the highest arched orthotic you can tolerate.
Custom orthotics that are made to betotal contact to the arch of your footwill provide the best support and protection. There are, however, some very good over-the-counter arch supports that will offer excellent protection.
For athletic shoes and walking shoes try the FootChair Plus Orthotic with adjustable arch height. It has a great arch to help stop flattening of the foot plus pads that can be used to increase the arch for even more support. This may help stop the foot from getting bigger over time.
For smaller casual shoes and small athletic shoes (such as soccer cleats) try the smaller version – the FootChair 3/4 Length Orthotic.
For women’s dress shoes, the FootChair Slim Orthotic with Adjustable Arch Support is also is the one we recommend to our patients. This is by far the best OTC arch support we have found for women’s flats and dress shoes. It has a great arch support, a very slim profile and flexes to adapt to most heel heights.
Here is a list of all of our recommended prefabricated orthotics.
2. Wear arch support sandals or slippers anytime you are not wearing shoes
At times that you are not wearing shoes, for example when in your house, wear sandals or slippers with arch support. The is particularly important if you are on hard, flat surfaces such as hardwood floors.
These arch support sandals will help prevent flattening and splaying of your feet.
The sandal brand with the most supportive arch is currently Vionic. You can see a selection of Vionic sandals and slippers here.
The key to avoiding flattening of the arch is to wear arch support as much as you can – even when at home.
3. Custom orthotics offer more protection against feet getting bigger
If prefabricated orthotics are not providing enough support, we can prescribe use a custom orthotic. Custom orthotics will conform closer to the arch of the foot, so they do a better job stopping your feet from flattening out. In particular a “total-contact orthotic” that hugs the arch of the foot very close will help the the arch from flattening the foot from getting longer.
If you are in the Seattle area contact us for an appointment to find out if you are a good candidate for custom orthotics.
4. Wear stable shoes
Stable shoes that don’t flex too much will also help support your feet and prevent the flattening that leads to larger feet. Our list of recommended shoes can be subscribed to here.
5. Have your feet sized when you buy shoes
Go to specialty shoe stores with well-trained staff and believe the clerk when they tell you that you are no longer a size 8.
6. Lose weight to shrink your feet
Extra weight puts a lot of flattening force on the foot. If you can take off a few pounds you will decrease those harmful forces on your feet.
So our general recommendation is that it is good idea to wear arch supports or custom othotics to help prevent the foot from flattening over time. Stable shoes will also help. These suggestions will probably help slow or decrease the enlargement of your feet, but regardless of what you do you will probably need a somewhat larger shoe as time progresses.
Most Important for Preventing Your Foot From Splaying and Getting Bigger
If you want to try to limit how much your foot splays out the most important things you can do are to ALWAYS wear arch support as described above and, if you are overweight, then lose some weight.