Dry, Cracked Heels: How to Treat this Painful Condition at Home
If you’ve ever experienced dry, cracked heels, you know all too well the pain associated with this condition with each step you take.
The combination of dry air during the fall and winter months, along with keeping feet tucked away in closed-toed shoes, are perfect conditions to develop this painful condition. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it until the temperature rises again.
While there are varying degrees of severity, ranging from mild irritation and toughness to open skin that bleeds and leads to infection, there are precautions to keep your feet properly cared for this winter season.
First and foremost, keep your feet moisturized. Rather than using lotions that are full of fragrances and chemicals, stick with a thick balm specially made for feet. Heel balms, as they’re called, are considered the first line of defense in treating cracked heels, and are designed to moisturize, soften and exfoliate the heels. Look for Flexitol heel balm (urea), salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids and saccharide isomerate, in the list of ingredients to ensure a good, quality product. Most balms can be purchased over-the-counter at drug stores or online.
Apply heel balm first thing in the morning after showering to increase skin elasticity. You can re-apply during the day as needed, but try to avoid open heeled shoes that might expose your heels to cool, dry air. At night apply a thicker layer of balm to the heel and then wear socks to sleep so that moisture is locked in overnight. If you experience some mild irritation when applying the balm, it generally dissipates quickly. However, if irritation becomes more painful or a rash appears, call your podiatrist for an exam to be sure there’s no infection present.
Another at-home treatment for cracked heels is a relaxing foot soak. Because the skin around the heel is almost always thicker and drier than the rest of your skin, it’s easier for the skin to split or crack when applying pressure. This is a common occurrence with people who walk a lot during the day and/or are overweight. To help alleviate this, try soaking your feet in lukewarm soapy water for 20-30 minutes to soften the skin. Then, use a loofah, foot stone, or pumice to gently exfoliate the skin around the heel. Avoid scrubbing, which can cause abrasions and open up the skin. Gently pat your feet dry and then apply heel balm and wear socks to bed overnight.
Another advancement in heel therapy is the heel sleeve, which is similar to a foot soak. These sock-like sleeves contain important vitamins and oils that sit on and soak into the heel.
A liquid bandage, which is a spray that is applied directly to the affected area, can prevent cracked heels from worsening. This treatment is especially beneficial for someone who might have severe heel cracks already and needs to prevent infection by protecting open skin.
Other at-home remedies include more homeopathic approaches such as applying honey or coconut oil as a natural treatment. Honey has antimicrobial and antibacterial qualities and can be used as a foot scrub after a soak, or as an overnight foot mask. Coconut oil is sometimes used to treat dry skin and helps your skin retain moisture. Its anti-inflammatory properties might help to prevent bleeding from cracked heels. Additional remedies include applying vinegar as a soak, olive oil, shea butter, mashed bananas and other oils and waxes. However, if you have open skin, it is advised to seek medical treatment before trying these at-home remedies as a precaution to prevent further infection.
Most importantly, do not attempt to treat cracked heels if they are caused by a medical condition. Podiatrists can determine the cause of the condition and treat the root of the problem rather than the symptom.
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