Why is the skin on my heels dry and cracked? Do I have some kind of infection?

Fungal infections of the skin on the feet (commonly called “athlete’s foot” and medically termed “tinea pedis”) are one possible cause of dry cracking skin on the heels (and other areas of the feet). However, the most common causes of dry cracked heels are a hereditary lack of moisture in the skin combined with some bad habits, such as going barefoot or wearing open shoes or sandals too often. Wearing closed shoes with socks and keeping the feet enclosed actually helps to trap in the moisture and prevents the skin from drying out and cracking.

Besides heredity, open shoes, and fungal infections, what are some other causes of dry cracked heels?

There are some less common medical and dermatological conditions that can also cause this problem. Hypothyroidism, Sjogren’s syndrome, and atopic dermatitis are a few. Obesity, long periods of standing, and living in a dry climate can also play a role.

What can I do about my dry cracked heels? They’re ugly and starting to be painful!

This is not a problem that should be ignored! The skin on the heels can crack completely open, which results in bleeding, pain, and even the risk of infection. Mild cases can sometimes be treated with over-the-counter moisturizing creams or anti-fungal creams along with changing any habits that are contributing to the problem. 

For more severe cases with increasing pain and accumulation of dead, calloused skin you should see a podiatrist. The podiatrist should be able to pin down the exact diagnosis, offer immediate relief by painlessly shaving off much of the dead skin, and prescribe the appropriate medication. Usually, the best type of cream is one that contains urea, which is called a “keratolytic” because it will help to break up the dead skin better than anything you can purchase at the pharmacy.

Getting your dry cracking heels under control may take some effort, but it will be worth it. Your heels will look and feel better and you won’t have to worry about infection. The best time to get treatment was yesterday, but the second-best time is RIGHT NOW! 😊

Richard H. Graves, DPM
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Podiatrist, Sports Medicine Specialist
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