Dry skin on the heels, even cracked skin, is a fairly common problem that can be treated at home. Be sure to give your feet some extra TLC year round, not just in the summer when you are wearing sandals.
So just what causes dry, cracked skin on our heels and feet? There are more than a few causes for this condition, but first let’s remember everything our feet do for us on a daily basis. The Skin Inc. article Sole Searching by Vicki Malo gives great overview on this issue:
The amount of pressure exerted on the feet gives a good indication that the skin on the soles must be very different than on the rest of the body.
The skin of the soles
The skin of the epidermis on the soles of the feet is much thicker; up to 1.4 mm and comprised of five distinct layers. It has to be thicker to withstand the amount of stress and pressure placed on the soles with every step. There’s more: The skin on the soles of the feet has an additional layer in the epidermis, and the skin cells are packed together in a strong, congruent membrane. The skin on the bottom of the feet also has four times more sweat glands, but does not have hair or sebaceous glands. Due to these functional features of the skin on the soles of the feet, it does not respond as readily to typical skin care techniques practiced elsewhere on the body.
The outermost layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum, is crucial to the skin barrier. Made up of overlapping layers of cells, the stratum corneum keeps vital nutrients in, and damaging substances and elements out. Healthy skin keeps in moisture and protects against the entry of bacteria, fungus or viruses. Unhealthy or dry skin creates a portal of entry, leaving the skin traumatized and unable to perform its job of protection.
Lifestyle and foot issues
So why do you see so many clients with dry skin on their feet? A lot of the reason has to do with lifestyle. Today’s is a fast-paced, high-stress, super-sized lifestyle. Lack of exercise, and a diet high in sugars and simple carbohydrates can lead to a breakdown in the circulation of the lower limbs and increased incidences of diabetes. Lifestyle is the greatest contributor to developing chronic venous insufficiencies (CVI). Venous insufficiencies lead to a disruption in the function of the skin, breaking it down at an intercellular level. There are no capillaries in the epidermis; however, the skin is nourished by diffusion from the capillaries in the underlying dermis. If the capillaries are compromised, proper blood supply (nourishment) cannot be provided to the epidermis of the skin. Impaired elimination of metabolic waste due to CVI impairs the sweat glands, diminishing sweat production on the bottom of the feet. The tissue disturbances further cause a breakdown of the lipids, which are responsible for holding the cells together. The breakdown of the lipids causes the hydrolipid film to break down, leading to transdermal water loss. The skin loses elasticity and has less potential for regeneration. The intercellular water loss compromises the integrity of the skin leading to micro lesions, such as dry skin. Micro lesions are a portal of entry and can cause skin issues, such as athlete’s foot.
There are many other reasons that one can suffer from dry heels and feet such as cold weather, indoor heating, improper foot care, and standing on your feet all day. There are even specific Ayurvedia explanations for dry and cracked heels:
Painful, cracked and dry heels is a predominant cosmetic problem and has been termed as Padadari in Ayurveda and has been explained inKshudra Rogas in Sushruta Samhita. There are innumerable remedies for cracked foot in Ayurveda and let’s have a look at the promising Ayurvedic essential oils for healing heel fissures.
Causes for cracks or fissures: Human foot is the powerful part of the body helping one to withstand all severe climatic conditions and roam around, yet it is this part of the body that is often neglected. Cracks on foot have no age limit and it can affect anyone for that matter irrelevant of the sex, color and origin. The major causes for cracks or heel fissures are:
- Cracks are occupational especially for farmers and other people who are involved in laborious tasks that demand standing always, which lead to huge pressure on the foot forcing it to develop cracks.
- Prolonged standing on hard floor and this is the reason why most of the homemakers develop cracks.
- Dry, dull and lifeless skin that lacks moisture, especially during winter has the tendency to develop cracks.
- Uncomfortable, not so fitting or open back footwear compels pressure on the foot, while widening and deepening the cracks.
- Obesity or excess accumulation of fat and deficiency of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
- Dry, hot, humid and tropical climatic conditions make your feet dull, dry and hard paving way to develop cracks.
- Aging and skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, athlete’s foot etc.
- High exposure of feet to dust, dirt, germs and other harmful organisms leading to infection in the foot.
- Excess sweating of feet or other causal illnesses like thyroid and diabetes can also cause cracks on the foot.
Symptoms: Cracks generally appear on the external or outer walls of the heels, when it is thick and dry. The symptoms of cracked foot are dry, itchy and painful heels with flaky and red patches and partition of skin looking like root hairs. When left unnoticed, fissures may start bleeding with excruciating pain and might even lead to developing Calluses, Cellulites, and Lymphangitis etc. Anyone with cracked feet will have greater discomfort while walking and the cracks can act as a dangerous channel for bacteria, virus, fungi and other harmful organisms to enter into the body and complicate the situation.
Now that we know the cause of dry and cracked heels what about the cure?
If you simply suffer from dry skin on your heels and feet you need to use a moisturizer with gentle acids in it in order to exfoliate and hydrate your feet. Apply nightly after soaking your feet or taking a shower. You can even wear cotton socks during the night if you want to in order to help the moisturizer penetrate deeper into your feet.
For very rough feet you can purchase a callous remover lotion or gel that is applied to the feet for about five to ten minutes. After that time has elapsed file the skin gently with a pumice stone or foot file. Finish with a moisturizer.
If your feet are cracked you need to use a product formulated for such a condition so that your skin can heal.
Bottom Line: Though dry and cracked heels are an unpleasant phenomena this is a common skin condition that can be treated at home. The key to proper treatment is finding the right product for you and using it daily.
- I use either Philosophy Soul Owner or Epionce Medical Barrier Cream on my feet nightly. See this post of mine on how to use these products.
- I came across this foot care brand called Footlogix that sounds intriguing though I haven’t tried it myself.
- The website One Good Thing by Jillee recommends this product for curing cracked heels.
- About.com recommends two different products for curing cracked heels.
At Home Treatments:
I found a few different at home treatment protocols that I thought were relevant to share:
- Ayurvedic Treatment for Cracked Heels
- 8 Tips for Dry, Cracked Heels
- For nail professionals: The Therapeutic Mani-Pedi Treatment – Skin Inc.
Image from nerdygaga.com