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Cracked feet, medically known as heel fissures, refer to the formation of calluses and cracks in the heel of the feet, often accompanied by thickening of the skin. Cracked feet are a common problem that affects people of all ages.
Cracked feet are generally a mild problem and considered bothersome only due to their appearance. However, if left untreated, the cracks can deepen and serve as entry points for infection-causing bacteria.
In some cases, cracked feet may also be associated with symptoms such as pain, peeling skin, bleeding, and itchiness. Fortunately, this problem can easily be managed with proper self-care in the early stages.
This article discusses the various medical and at-home treatments to treat cracked feet and prevent complications.
Causes of Cracked Feet
Cracked feet are chiefly caused by a lack of moisture in the feet that can compromise the skin’s protective barrier and can lead to skin dryness and thickening, increasing the risk of cracking and calluses.
The following factors may also contribute to cracked feet:
- Standing for long hours
- Prolonged exposure to water
- Cold weather
- Use of harsh soaps and chemicals
- Being overweight
- Use of improper footwear
- Medical conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, diabetes, and thyroid
Treatment for Cracked Feet
Cracked feet rarely warrant medical treatment, but severely cracked feet or those caused by underlying medical conditions need to be treated timely.
For a proper diagnosis, consult a doctor, who may suggest the following interventions:
- Keratolytic and softening creams to help in the easy exfoliation of the dead skin
- Barrier creams to maintain the integrity of the epidermal barrier
- Steroid-based creams to improve itching and inflammation
- Medical glue or bandages to wrap the deeper cracks in order to prevent infections, promote healing, and reduce pain
- Antibiotics if the cracks are infected
- Heel pads, insoles, or heel cups to take the pressure off the heel and provide better support
- Medical removal of the dead tissue
Home Remedies for Cracked Feet
Several home remedies can help in the treatment of cracked heels and are often suggested by doctors themselves.
Note: Make sure to consult a doctor if the condition doesn’t improve even after a week of using a home remedy to rule out medical conditions such as athlete’s foot and eczema.
1. Soak and exfoliate
Since cracked feet are largely made of dead, thickened skin, exfoliating or scrubbing the skin can remove the layers and thereby can help solve the problem. It is best to soak your feet in warm, soapy water before scrubbing to help soften and loosen the thick skin of your feet.
How to use:
- Add some liquid soap such as Castile soap to a foot tub or a bucket with warm water and mix.
- Optionally, add ½ cup of Epsom salt or essential oils such as oregano, tea tree, peppermint, or calendula essential oil to the water. Alternatively, you can add 2 tbsp of baking soda to the water if the skin on your feet is hard.
- Soak your feet in the prepared foot bath for about 20 minutes.
- Take out your feet and scrub them using a pumice stone, loofah, or Ped Egg to exfoliate the dead skin cells.
- You can also use foot exfoliants that contain AHAs, hyaluronic acid, or urea if the skin is extremely hard.
- Rinse your feet with clean water and pat them dry.
- Apply a moisturizer or foot cream to your feet, and cover them with cotton socks overnight to trap the moisture. It is recommended to do this remedy before bedtime.
- Avoid scrubbing your feet dry.
- Refrain from using sharp objects such as scissors and razors to scrape or cut the dead skin to avoid cuts and infections.
- Avoid excessive scrubbing as it can further cause the skin to harden up.
- People with diabetes or neuropathy should avoid mechanical exfoliation of the feet and instead consult a podiatrist as they may have decreased sensation on the feet and may develop complications.
2. Prepare a glycerine and rose water bath
Glycerine is an excellent hydrating and moisture-binding agent that can also stimulate the repair of the skin barrier. (1) Since cracked feet are often caused by a lack of moisture and compromised skin barrier function, the use of glycerine may help improve the condition.
How to use:
- Mix glycerine and olive oil in a 1:1 ratio.
- To this mixture, add some rose water (2) and oats. Combine them thoroughly.
- Soak your feet in the mixture or apply it to your feet.
- Wash your feet after about 20 minutes and pat them dry.
3. Apply honey
Honey is a rich moisturizing and humectant agent, owing to its high fructose and sucrose content. It possesses antimicrobial and antiseptic properties that can help prevent infections. (3) In addition, honey helps in mildly exfoliating the skin, therefore aiding in the improvement of cracked feet.
How to use:
- Apply raw, medical-grade, or organic honey to the affected skin directly. You can also mix it with natural fats or plant oil and ½ tsp of rose water before application.
- Leave this mixture on your dried skin for 15–20 minutes.
- Wash it off using water.
4. Use natural fats and essential oils
Natural fats such as shea butter, (4) mango butter, (5) milk cream, avocado butter, and cocoa butter (6) are considered excellent skin moisturizers, due to their linoleic and oleic fatty acid content. These natural fats are readily absorbed by the skin, providing deep moisturization.
How to use:
- Melt cocoa butter or shea butter in a frying pan on low heat.
- Mix in a few drops of coconut or jojoba oil. You can add carrier oils such as argan or almond oil to make the mixture thinner.
- Allow the mixture to cool and transfer it into a container.
- Apply the moisturizing cream to cracked skin after taking a bath or before bedtime daily.
5. Rub some aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel is a highly effective moisturizing and humectant agent that helps bind moisture to the skin. The mucopolysaccharides in aloe vera gel are useful in hydrating the skin.
In addition, the aloe vera gel boosts the production of collagen and elastin fibers, aiding in skin repair. The use of aloe vera gel also helps soften hardened skin. (7)
How to use:
- Extract fresh aloe vera gel. You can add honey or natural fats to the aloe vera gel to form a paste.
- Apply it to your cracked feet.
- Massage it in for a few minutes, and rinse it off after 15 minutes.
6. Prepare a DIY foot scrub
A foot scrub can be highly useful in the removal of flaky, dry, rough skin from the feet. While various foot scrubs are commercially available, they may contain high amounts of chemicals that may irritate cracked skin.
You can easily make foot scrubs at home from natural ingredients that exfoliate the skin, thus preventing chemical irritation. You can use coarse grains such as masoor dal and sugar and a base such as honey to make DIY foot scrubs. Honey provides the added benefit of moisturizing your feet.
How to use:
- Coarsely grind masoor dal and sugar crystals together.
- Add a few teaspoons of honey to the mixture to form a paste.
- Gently rub the scrub on your feet in circular motions.
- After 5–10 minutes, wash your feet, pat them dry, and apply an emollient.
7. Apply a ripened banana mask
Do not toss overripe bananas into the trash! Instead, put them to good use by making a foot mask. Applying overripe bananas to your cracked feet may moisturize and soften the hard skin.
The vitamins A, B6, and C in bananas can provide hydration and nutrition to the skin, aiding in the treatment of cracked feet.
How to use:
- Mash a ripe banana and an avocado and mix them well.
- Apply the mask to your feet, properly covering the surface, including the nail beds and between your toes.
- Wash the mask after 15 minutes.
- Soak your feet in the water, followed by gentle exfoliation.
8. Try oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal is popularly used as a cleansing, moisturizing, and nourishing agent, owing to its rich composition of lipids, polysaccharides, proteins, minerals, flavonoids, and vitamins. It also possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial to the skin.
How to use:
- Prepare a foot scrub by mixing 1 tbsp of powdered oatmeal and jojoba oil to form a thick paste. Apply the paste to your feet. Rinse your feet with cold water after half an hour and pat them dry. Do this remedy every other day until you see improvement.
- Alternatively, you can buy oatmeal-based skin care products for the treatment of cracked feet, and use them as indicated on the label. These products include moisturizers and cleansers that are often used for the treatment of pruritus and dry skin. (8)
Self-Care Measures for Cracked Feet
In addition to medical and at-home treatments, the following self-care measures must be followed to aid recovery and help prevent the worsening of cracked feet.
1. Use heavy-duty creams or serums
You can use foot creams that contain, urea, oat extracts, saccharide isomerate, soybean extracts, tea tree oil, Nymphaea alba flower extracts, and 2% salicylic acid (9) for improved function.
2. Keep your feet moisturized
Since cracked feet mainly result from skin dryness, keeping your feet hydrated and moisturized at all times is essential for healing. Use humectants and emollients that moisturize and make the skin supple, also preventing cracked feet in the first place.
It is best to use thick moisturizers, such as petroleum jelly, as they prevent the loss of water from the skin. (10) You can also use natural fats-based creams and moisturizers that contain ceramide, paraffin wax, dimethicone, jojoba extracts, aloe vera gel, willow bark extracts, vitamin E oil, vitamin C, Moroccan argan oil, or olive oil.
Coconut oil is another excellent moisturizing agent that also exhibits antimicrobial properties, (11) helping prevent secondary infections associated with cracked feet. Before using vegetable oils as moisturizers, soak your skin in warm water and exfoliate it using a loofah.
It is best to do this before bedtime and leave the oil on overnight, covering the feet with cotton socks.
3. Wear moisturizing socks
Two kinds of moisturizing socks can be used in the treatment of cracked feet – socks that have built-in lotion or socks that you can wear after you have applied lotion to your feet.
The moisturizing socks with built-in lotion contain a polymer gel made with olive oil, aloe vera gel, avocado oil, vitamin E oil, jojoba oil, or grapeseed oil as the moisturizing agent. Make sure to follow the instructions on the product label when using these socks and only handwash them.
It is suggested to soak and scrub your feet before using the socks. Wear the socks for about 45 minutes. Replace the moisturizing socks after a few uses as they lose their hydrating properties over time.
You can also find moisturizing socks with nonslip soles, enabling you to continue with your daily routine while your feet are getting healed.
4. Change your shoes
A persistent problem of cracked feet may result from the use of inappropriate footwear such as tight boots or shoes with a stiff sole, especially those with heels. Therefore, it is suggested to replace your footwear with better-fitting shoes with a soft sole.
You can also opt for shoes made with softer fabrics and without a heel counter, such as loafers.
5. Stay hydrated
While the use of creams and lotions keeps your feet moisturized from the outside, optimum intake of water throughout the day is essential to keep your skin hydrated from within. Consume 7–8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated and to avoid the problem of cracked, dry skin.
When to See a Doctor
It is suggested to consult your podiatrist or dermatologist if cracked feet persist and don’t show any improvement despite the proper home treatment and care.
In addition, schedule a visit with your doctor if you notice the following symptoms along with cracked feet:
- Deep cracks
- Pus or ulcers, signifying an infection
It is especially vital to consult a doctor for cracked feet if you have diabetes as there is an increased risk of infection, loss of sensation, and ulceration with the condition.
Cracked heels are a common foot problem that generally occurs due to a lack of moisturization and general care of the feet. The formation of heel fissures is representative of skin dryness and excessive pressure on the feet.
While they rarely pose a problem, cracked heels, if left untreated, can cause pain and bleeding, interfering with daily activities and even making walking difficult. Therefore, it is best to treat your cracked feet timely.
Various home remedies and self-care measures can help in the treatment of cracked feet. These include soaking your feet, cleaning them, and regularly using foot cream. If these treatments do not work, make sure to consult your doctor as the problem may be occurring from an underlying medical condition.
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