How to Treat Dry, Cracked Heels
6 doctor-recommended home remedies for smooth, sandal-ready feet
Your summer sandals are oh-so-cute. Too bad you can’t say the same about your feet — especially your heels. They’re dry, cracked and downright unpresentable.
If a thick moisturizer doesn’t do the trick and you don’t feel like paying for a pedicure, you can tame your tootsies with these doctor-recommended home remedies.
First, make sure your foot issues are purely cosmetic. Sometimes rough, dry heels reflect a health problem. For example, people with diabetes often have nerve problems and lose feeling in their feet. The nerve damage also can lead to dry, cracked skin. If your feet have cracked skin and open sores that heal slowly, you should see a doctor to be checked for diabetes.
Some arthritis medications can cause changes in the skin of the heel as well, says Bob Baravarian, DPM, a Santa Monica, California, podiatrist who specializes in sports medicine and an assistant clinical professor at UCLA. And if the skin on your heels is red, peeling or itchy, you may have a fungal infection, Baravarian says. Check with your doctor.
You also should see a doctor if your dry heels also are red and swollen, which could be sign of infection: Cracks in skin can let in bacteria.
Otherwise, chances are your rough, dry dogs are simply a cosmetic concern. Here are some easy fixes that really work.
1. Vicks VapoRub
The mentholatum in Vicks VapoRub — or any mentholated topical cream or ointment — seems to work as an exfoliant to help remove dead skin and calluses, Sandy Johnson, MD, a dermatologist in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
To use it, apply a little dab to heels and then slip on a pair of socks. Leave them on (and sit still — don’t walk around) for about a half hour, advises Johnson. Repeat a few days in a row, and you should notice a difference, she says.
2. Petroleum jelly
Vaseline is good for treating all sorts of skin problems, Johnson says. "You can use it as often as you like." Simply slather it on dry spots to help soften them up.
One downside of petroleum jelly: It can stain rugs, furniture and clothes, she says. Set aside an old pair of cotton socks to put on after you’ve slathered. Wipe off your heels after you remove the socks if there’s still a film of petroleum jelly on your skin.
Mash up a banana and apply to your heels and any other areas of your foot that are dry. Acids in the fruit may help to exfoliate dry skin cells, Johnson says. You can also use the peel from a banana by wrapping it around your heel. (Photo: Viktar Malyshchyts/Shutterstock)
4. Moisturize and wrap
Baravarian recommends applying a moisturizer at night and then wrapping your feet in plastic wrap so that the product can work its magic while you sleep.
Which moisturizer or heel cream? There are a variety of over-the-counter products formulated specifically to exfoliate feet, moisturize them or both. An exfoliator combined with a moisturizer can be especially effective because removing dead skin cells makes it easier for the moisturizer to penetrate and soften skin.
One ingredient that’s been found to be especially effective for exfoliating is urea, which is safe in concentrations of up to 10 percent. Ask your doctor what he or she recommends. You also can check to see if the product has earned the American Podiatric Medical Association's seal of approval.
5. White vinegar and water soak
In a footbath or other basin big enough to fit both feet, combine one part white vinegar with three parts warm water. Soak your feet in this solution for 10 to 20 minutes once a week. The white vinegar will soften not only your heels but the rest of your feet, Johnson says. It will also whisk away the icky white stuff you may get between your toes. In case you were wondering, that's called maceration, a mixture of fungus, yeast and bacteria, Johnson says.
6. Pumice stones, files and other devices
You literally can scrub, scrape or file your heels smooth. A pumice stone works well for reducing the thickness of hard skin, according to Baravarian, although not all experts say it’s good for heel cracks. Use it in the bath or shower while your feet are wet so that you don't scrape too hard. A pumice can smooth calluses and rough patches, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Johnson recommends battery-operated heel-softening devices. Sold online for about $20, the devices typically use rollers embedded with minerals or micro-mineral stones. The rollers spin at about 2,000 spins a minute to remove dead, dry skin. Some also include a smoothing roller to finish the job. Two examples are Ped Egg Power and Personal Pedi.
Foot files are less expensive at about $10. They’re effective, but Johnson warns against rubbing too vigorously, which may make things worse. Use a gentle touch and read the directions: Some files are designed to be used on wet feet, others on dry feet. (Photo: VELYR/Shutterstock)
Once your heels are baby-soft, keep them that way
There’s little point in treating your cracked heels if you don’t make some changes to keep those cracks from coming back. Here’s what it will take:
- Wear moisture-wicking socks. This is especially important if you have very sweaty feet, which makes you more prone to rough heels, Johnson says. It may sound counterintuitive, but once sweat is washed off or wiped off, you're left with dry, rough skin, she says.
- Assess your shoes. Make sure they don’t rub. Shoes that rub against your heel or put pressure on your heel can lead to calluses (thickened areas of skin).
- Lose weight if you need to. Carrying too many pounds puts pressure on the feet and encourages the fat pad under the heel to expand sideways. This can make the skin more likely to thicken and crack.
- Don’t walk barefoot or go without socks.
- Favor closed shoes over sandals or flip-flops. (Save those cute summer sandals for a special occasion.)