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Cracked heels are not just an inconvenient — not to mention unsightly — skin problem. It could be a sign of underlying health issues, skin-damaging practices, and too much pressure. Characterized by deep cuts or fissures that look dry, crusty, and sometimes, bleeding, cracked heels can be painful and should immediately be dealt with. Keep scrolling to find out the different surprising causes of cracked heels (it’s not always dry skin!).

You Have a Skin Condition

Cracked heels can occur when the skin is too dry and there is a disruption in the skin barrier. It can also be from a medical condition, such as psoriasis or eczema. According to the National Foot Health Assessment 2012, women are 50% more likely to report heel fissures. The condition is usually accompanied by thickened skin that retains less moisture and cracks easily with pressure. 

You’re Getting Older

Always moisturize your heels and apply sunscreen if they’re going to be exposed to the sun to prevent photoaging.

Cracked heels can also be a sign of aging. According to the US National Institute on Aging, dryness is common in mature skin, especially in the lower legs, lower arms, and feet. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and loses fat, making it rough and dry. Excessive sun exposure can trigger these changes prematurely, so always make sure to apply sunscreen to your feet, too. 

You Have Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamin deficiencies can lead to cracked heels. A study in the Journal of Dermato Endocrinology reports that the condition of our skin reflects our inner health. 

A vitamin E deficiency, for example, can lead to extremely dry skin that will make you prone to cracked heels. This is because vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects our collagen reserves and keeps our skin supplement and moisturized. Vitamin C, meanwhile, helps produce collagen and protects our skin against cellular damage. Vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy and symptoms include dry, scaly skin, bleeding, and slow wound healing. 

You’re Overweight

Wearing closed shoes that fit well can protect the skin on your heels in the event of excess pressure.

Excess weight can increase pressure on the heel when we take a step. If you have dry skin on your feet, your skin can easily crack when it expands because of the added pressure. To prevent this, you need to wear shoes that provide support and keep the skin on the heel from expanding. As much as possible, wear closed shoes that fit well. Moreover, moisturize your feet regularly to keep your heels from cracking easily. 

Care for Cracked Heels

Since this condition is already an extreme symptom of dry skin, cracked heels need a lot of extra care. To moisturize them, you can use an emollient, which penetrates the outer layer of the skin and fills in the gaps between flakes.
Humectants such as hyaluronic acid are also an option. However, be careful about using them in dry conditions. These humectants draw moisture from the air to the skin. If there’s little moisture in the air, it draws moisture from the lower layers of the skin instead. It can make your feet even drier.

Next, apply an occlusive, such as petroleum jelly, once your skin has absorbed the emollient or humectant. Try Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, triple-purified, 100% petroleum jelly that helps heal and protect dry skin.

According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Vaseline reduces water loss from the skin’s surface by up to 98%, making it highly effective in locking moisture in. You can seal in the petroleum jelly (and avoid a mess) by wearing 100% cotton socks that allow your skin to breathe.

Bring your cracked heels back to health by loading up on vitamins, hydrating, and committing to a moisturizing regimen. If your symptoms persist or if you experience extreme pain, seek medical help immediately. Your doctor may give you antibiotics in case of infection and recommend treatments that can remove dead skin and heal open wounds.