How do I fix my dry, cracked heels?

Recently, several people have asked me, “How do I fix my dry cracked heels?”. I  know it’s still summer weather, and that means sandals, but no one wants to have ugly cracks on your heel as you walk away.

In addition to the unsightly cracks, the pain is sometimes unbearable.  I mean, you can’t even step down on your foot without almost wetting your pants.  No kidding.  

If you’ve never experienced a dry cracked heel, then consider yourself lucky.  But, if you have, I totally understand, I’ve been there myself. 

First and foremost, the inability to walk due to the pain needs to be taken care of.  For me that means popping a couple Tylenol (well generic acetaminophen), and a 4% Lidocaine topical cream.  Yes, the same stuff, in a much higher concentration, the doctor uses before he stitches you up.   4% Lidocaine is the highest you can get over the counter.  I suppose you could use a topical benzocaine cream or gel (like what’s in orajel), but I usually have Cracked Heel Cream with 4% Lidocaine in my cupboard, so that’s what I use.

Once the pain is under control, and you can walk again, popping pills is not a long term solution.  So the problem of the dry, cracked heel must be fixed.  I have heard, and read about good results from a foot soak made by mixing warm water, listerine and vinegar.  I suppose any form of medicated mouthwash would work, and all agree, apple cider vinegar was better, but white distilled vinegar would also work.  The mixture should be equal parts of each in a basin large enough to put your feet into. You could probably also use an electric foot bath, the kind that is like a mini whirlpool.  

Now onto the soaking.  Believe it or not, soaking your feet for long periods of time is NOT recommended by podiatrists (foot doctors).  The main reason,  prolonged soaking can lead to maceration (which is when the skin has prolonged exposure to moisture and begins to break down).  That’s really the last thing you need, so limit the soaking.  My recommendation is about 10-15 minutes, but absolutely no more than 20 minutes at a time.

After you’ve soaked your feet, I use a foot or nail file rather than a pumice stone.  Many times the dry, cracked heel is harder than the pumice stone, so it’s of little effect to remove the dry skin.  You can purchase foot or nail files at almost any store.  I prefer a nail file that has a grit of 100/180 or better yet if you can find one with a grit of 80/100.

Now don’t expect this to fix your dry, cracked heels the first time.  It took a couple of months for your heels to get cracked, so it’s gonna take some time to get them healed.

Besides being unsightly, and painful, cracked heels could possibly become infected.  Although this is rare, the cracked skin could be deep enough to bleed.  Then you have an open wound to deal with.  Let’s hope yours aren’t that bad, but believe me when I say it can happen. My dry, cracked heels were actually at that point several months ago, but thank goodness they did not become infected.  

If your heels are cracked deep enough to bleed, I would skip the foot soak,  after all, putting your foot in a basin of water is just inviting bacteria to flow right into your open wound.

If your dry cracked heels are infected, the best remedy is a topical antibiotic.  Yes you could use something like Neosporin (or a generic triple antibiotic) ointment, but the latest recommendation from doctors is to use bacitracin.  The difference is that Bacitracin has 1 antibiotic in it, while Neosporin has 3 – Bacitracin, Polymyxin, and Neomycin.  (Some people may have allergies to the triple antibiotic, which affects healing). I actually use Cracked Heel Cream  it contains benzalkonium chloride, which is an antiseptic that is effective against a wide range of bacteria, yeasts and fungi. 

So now that we’ve discussed how to take care of the pain and cracks on your heels, it’s time to address the real problem.  

The answer actually lies in the question.  “How do I fix my DRY cracked heels?”.  Simple, add some moisture.  That can be in the form of a lotion, a cream or an ointment, but the key is to be consistent. (You can read about the differences in my post Ointment or Cream Which Should I Use)  For me that means every morning before I put on my boots, for you it might mean every night before you slip on your comfy slippers.  Regardless of when, it’s important to do so everyday until your heel is no longer dry and cracked. Since that day hasn’t come for me yet, I slather the cream on every morning.  The last thing I want to do is tiptoe around in pain because my heels are dry and cracked again. 

As with many other types of foot problems, fixing dry cracked heels is part science, part asking for suggestions, and part trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

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