Dry, cracked heels don’t just feel bad to walk around on—they’re also potentially devastating for your health. One of your skin’s primary functions is to defend your body from harmful bacteria and germs. Cracked heels render that defense useless, making you much more susceptible to illness and infection. Keeping your feet clean and fresh and smooth is the best way to keep the microbes that tend to build up down there at bay.
Thankfully, healing cracked heels is a pretty straightforward process. Heel fissures are a result of severe dryness, so all it takes to fix ’em is regular cleansing, moisturizing, and exfoliating, along with taking a few proactive mitigating measures throughout the day. Here are six easy steps you can take to, er…take easier steps on soft, healthy, crack-free feet.
1. Cleanse Thoroughly, Twice a Day
Let’s start simple: Keep your feet clean. Even if you only shower once a day, just stick your dogs in the tub for an additional scrub down to ensure they start and end the day fresh. This will keep bacteria and fungus at bay and create a clean canvas for the hydrating and exfoliating products you apply next. And when you are showering, make sure to keep things short and the temperatures mild. Hot water exacerbates dry skin, and soaking too long will further draw hydration out.
2. Moisturize with Humectants and Emollients
Immediately after washing, towel your feet dry and slather on some foot cream. Ideally you need one with active humectants and emollients—many commonly-used ingredients are both—which will keep your feet moisturized and prevent any further cracks. For the unfamiliar, here’s a quick rundown on what those fancy terms mean—and which applicable ingredients to look out for:
- Humectants attract moisture from the air and actively hydrate your skin. While hyaluronic acid is likely the most notable humectant used in skincare products, other common humectant ingredients in foot creams include urea, salicylic acid, and lactic acid (all three of which also exfoliate—more on that below), as well as shea butter, cocoa butter, aloe vera, squalane, lanolin, panthenol, ceramides, and allantoin.\
- Emollients form a protective layer over the surface of the skin that helps to soften and smooth it. Many of the above humectant ingredients also check this box: hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, shea butter, urea, panthenol, cocoa butter, squalane, and ceramides all play double duty.
3. Before Bed, Layer with an Occlusive Balm
Occlusives are a defensive layer that locks in moisture and further shields skin from outside threats. They generally come in the form of waxy jellies or dense balms. In the evening, layer one of these heavier solutions on over your humectant/emollient product, which will magnify its efficacy and help your skin cells replenish themselves as you sleep. (You might want to consider wearing socks after application, too, so you don’t leave glossy footprints all over the house.)
4. Minimize Moisture Accumulation
There’s the good kind of moisture (the kind the products above provide) and the bad kind of moisture (the sweat and dampness you build up throughout the day). It’s important to ward off the latter, which could lead to bacteria and fungus growth. Start by wearing moisture-wicking socks (knit from polyester, nylon, or wool) and consider a dry spray or powder—so long as you’re careful not to apply it directly to any cuts.
5. Buff Away Dead Skin
A word of warning: Exfoliation is an important treatment for dryness, but if your heels are cracked open, then steer clear until those wounds are fully healed. Foot scrubs, foot peels, and callus removers have plenty of value, but they’re only to be used on closed skin.
That said, your cracked and dry feet can likely tolerate the use of daily hydrating creams that include exfoliating ingredients like urea, lactic acid, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid. Just be sure to follow the instructions on any exfoliating product you use carefully and not go overboard, or you might find yourself dealing with new kinds of skin irritation.
6. Cover Up Everywhere at Home
While your cracked heels are healing, you need to prevent any germs from getting up inside those crevices. Fresh socks with an occlusive balm are a good option for padding around the house, but you should also resume your old college habit of wearing flip-flops in the shower—even if you don’t share your bathroom with anybody—until your heels are back to normal.