Yesss, it’s finally summer! Ready to show off that pedicure?
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
…no? Well, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. There are some things you can do to get your feet ready for primetime.
If you’re tired of dry heels dulling the joy of sandal season, dermatologist Wyatt Andrasik, MD, has some expert advice on taking them from dusty, crusty and desert-like to smooth, satiny and sensational.
What causes dry, cracked heels?
Ugh, there’s nothing like feeling a dry, sandpapery heel graze against your leg or watching it snag a new pair of tights. But why do our heels become so rough and dry in the first place?
“Dry skin is common and can be caused by a variety of things,” Dr. Andrasik says. “Often, it’s a combination of a few different factors.”
These factors include:
- Age: As we age, our skin changes. The accumulation of sun damage, decreased oil production and reduced skin thickness all contribute to dry skin — on our feet and elsewhere.
- Trauma: Your skin can dry out as a result of repeated friction from rubbing and continued exposure to harsh environments, like dry climates.
- Lack of maintenance: You may be neglecting your poor feet. “People don’t always moisturize their heels, even if they moisturize the rest of their body,” Dr. Andrasik notes.
Sometimes, though, dry skin can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. “Dry, flaky skin can be a sign of atopic dermatitis, or eczema, a fungal infection or nutritional deficiencies, among others,” Dr. Andrasik says. And in some cases, dry, cracked skin on the heels could signify diabetes.
If you’re dealing with an underlying condition, it’s best to seek treatment from your healthcare provider rather than try to get rid of the dry skin on your own.
Remedies to help heal cracked heels
If your situation stems from a lack of heel care instead of an underlying medical condition, there are some things you can do to take your heels from Brillo® to buttery soft. Dr. Andrasik shares tips for taking care of those tough tootsies.
1. Wash your feet
You should wash your feet daily using water that’s not too hot; lukewarm is best. Taking care not to scrub, use a gentle, fragrance-free soap, like Dove® Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar or Cetaphil® Gentle Skin Cleanser.
It’s OK to soak your feet for a few minutes, but just a few. “You don’t want to soak them too long, or you risk weakening the skin barrier, which allows for excessive moisture loss,” Dr. Andrasik says.
2. Moisturize your feet
After you soak or shower, dry your feet and slather them with lotion or cream. “Look for products with ceramides, which are molecules that help trap water in the skin and restore its natural barrier,” Dr. Andrasik says.
3. Lock in the moisture
After you’ve lotioned up, give it a couple of minutes to sink in. You can use an occlusive ointment such as Vaseline®, which creates something of a sealant to secure the moisture you’ve just applied.
4. Wear socks to bed
Not a sock person? It might be time to reconsider — overnight, at least. Slip into thin, 100% cotton socks to retain the moisture in your feet while you sleep.
How to prevent cracked heels
Once you’ve gotten those heels back on track, how can you keep them that way? Here’s how to establish a heel care routine that will help ensure that your feet are sandal-ready any time of year.
Moisturize twice a day
Yes, really! Twice a day. Dr. Andrasik recommends trying an exfoliating moisturizer like an over-the-counter urea cream or AmLactin® lotion, which will help remove dead skin and keep those heels soft and supple.
Keep wearing socks to bed
That sock habit is one you should adopt more often, not just when your heels are in need. You may not think of socks as a protective garment, but they help protect your feet from the outside world.
“Socks add an additional layer between your skin and the environment and can limit damage to the outer layer of the skin,” Dr. Andrasik says.
Take it easy on the tools
The skin care aisle is full of products that claim to soften and smooth your feet. But are callus shavers, graters, pumice stones or electronic foot files safe? Dr. Andrasik says these tools are OK when used as directed and in moderation. But you’re not trying to grate your feet like a fine Parmesan!
“They can be used on either wet or dry feet,” he says. “Just don’t file over any areas of inflamed, itchy or sensitive skin, which can make things worse.”
An occasional foot peel is OK
Sure, your favorite Instagram influencer swears by them, but are foot peels safe for use on rough heels? “These chemical peels can gently exfoliate the outer layers of skin, leading to an improved appearance and softer feel,” Dr. Andrasik explains.
“They can be done safely but should be avoided if you have or are prone to other skin conditions.” This includes:
- Athlete’s foot.
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema).
- Contact dermatitis.
- Any other broken skin, like rashes, sores or wounds.
When to see a dermatologist
If you’ve tried it all and your heels just seem to hate moisture, it’s time to call in the cavalry. Schedule a consultation with a dermatologist to get to the bottom of your dry heel worries and woes.
“A dermatologist can evaluate you for an underlying pathologic process that may be contributing to your dry skin,” Dr. Andrasik says. “They can also offer advice on gentle skin care routines and safe products to keep your skin healthy.”
Sandal season, here you come!