Treatment for Cracked Heels

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

Now that it's cold and dry out, my heels are cracking. I tried using heavy oil-based moisturizers, but I don't see much improvement. Is there anything else I can do besides trying to scrape off the calluses?

Often, cracked skin on the feet is simply a pesky symptom of winter's harsh weather. Common sense tells us that heavy creams and lotions will relieve the problem, but some cracked heels require more aggressive treatment.

Cracks in the skin on your heels are commonly known as heel fissures. They usually occur when skin becomes dry and aggravates the thick, brittle calluses on your heels. The everyday acts of standing and walking on our feet places enough pressure onto brittle skin that small cracks open in the epidermal layer of the skin. While this remains mostly an aesthetic problem, some patients experience deep cracks that feel painful and can even bleed or get infected. So as the days grow colder, take the following steps into account when your feet start cracking under pressure.

Exfoliate & Moisturize

When the outermost layer of the skin becomes extremely thick and brittle, heavy lotions can't get absorbed through the calluses to do their work. If you're going through bottles of foot cream without seeing any improvement, take the preliminary step of exfoliating and softening dry, hardened skin. Both chemical and physical exfoliation can help reduce the calluses and allow lotion to penetrate. While in the shower, gently rub a wet pumice stone across heels and calluses. Before bed, try applying a lotion that contains glycolic or lactic acid. Peter Thomas Roth AHA Exfoliating Foot Cream boasts both glycolic and salicylic acids while AmLactin Moisturizing Cream (usually located behind the pharmacy counter) features a 12% lactic acid formula. Follow by slipping on a pair of white cotton socks to hold in moisture while you sleep.

Antifungal & Antibiotic Treatments

Cracked skin can also indicate a fungal infection. Try alternating the use of an antifungal foot cream like Avon Foot Works Antifungal Foot Cream with an exfoliating product. If you need a more accessible antifungal treatment, you can opt for no-frills drugstore versions of athlete's foot treatments. Worried about the deeper fissures that may open your skin to infection? Apply antibiotic ointment to the fissures at night such as Neosporin. In addition to the antibacterial benefits, Neosporin also contains cocoa butter, olive oil, and petrolatum, all of which help soften skin by preventing water loss. With both antifungal and antibiotic medications, use the products for at least a few weeks to get rid of symptoms.

Other Options

One myth about cracked heels is that super glue can close up fissures and seal them from infection. While small doses of super glue are nontoxic, most doctors do not recommend using retail grade super glue to fill in the cracks in your heels. Additionally, avoid razor-like tools that scrape off the calluses. Accidentally cutting through the skin can worsen your symptoms and create a greater opportunity for infection. Finally, don't wear open-backed shoes if you suffer from cracked heels. The pressure from being on your feet causes the skin to expand slightly. Shoes with closed backs will limit this expansion and allow your feet a chance to heal.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.