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What Causes Cracked Heels?

Do you suffer from dry, cracked heels? Take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

Close up of cracked art surface
A 2012 study found that 20% of US adults have experienced cracked skin on their feet, women being 50% more likely to experience the condition than men.

And take even more comfort in knowing that there are products and solutions to help heal your cracked heels as well as actions you can take to prevent them from reoccurring. But let’s talk about why cracked heels occur.

Dryness

  • There are a number of reasons why cracked heels form but the biggest culprit by far is dry, dehydrated skin. As our outermost extremity and lacking oil glands, our feet are uniquely prone to dehydration which can be exacerbated by a number of factors (many of which are listed below). When this dry skin thickens and hardens, your feet can crack and peel leading to pain, discomfort and sometimes infection. 

Hot Water

  • Washing your feet = good. Exposing your feet to hot water = not so good. Hot showers and/or baths are known to further dry out our skin. And some soaps can actually strip your skin of protective natural oils and damage the skin barrier, further dehydrating your feet. 

Footwear

  • Poor fitting shoes that are too tight cause friction on the back of your heels and can further exacerbate dry skin. 
  • Open-backed footwear (i.e., sandals and flip flops) is also known to contribute to cracked heels due to the increased exposure to dry air and the lack of support provided for the fat pads under your heels, which can then expand laterally and increase the likelihood of cracking

Weather 

  • Skin is typically the driest in the winter when weather conditions outside are cold and dry, and indoor heating creates low humidity environments indoors. 

Skin and/or Hormonal Conditions

  • Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema as well as hormone changes and/or imbalances stemming from hypothyroidism or menopause can lead to cracked heels. 

Obesity 

  • Additional weight placed on the heel pad can cause the skin to stretch and expand sideways increasingly the likelihood of cracks  

Aging 

  • As we age, our feet dry out and lose elasticity as we age as the body produces less collagen. As a result our feet become future susceptible to dryness and cracking 

Dry, cracked heels can be a sign of a more significant health issue. If you suspect a more serious medical issue, consult a podiatrist or general physician.

 

Sources: Institute for Preventive Foot Health, Mayo Clinic