After not paying any attention to our feet all winter long, it’s fair to say, we want a quick fix to solve those cracked heels and dry tootsies come summer. After all, our feet do a lot for us, so looking after them with a bit of moisturiser is the least we can do.
Cracked heels are nothing to be ashamed of. It’s common to experience excessively dry skin on your feet that has cracked on the heel and peeling in other places like the toes. In fact, pretty much all of us have them, or have done at some point. I'm looking at my heels right now and let me tell you, it ain't exactly smooth city down there. While my heel cracks aren't particularly keeping me up at night, they don't really vibe with my summer sandals, mules, or basically any backless footwear, nor my cute toenail designs – not to mention heel cracks can be pretty painful.
When the cracking is severe though, a light layer of cream probably won’t cut it. So, if you’re wondering what’s causing the dryness and struggling to know how to heal cracked feet overnight (and maintain it!) you’re in the right place. Here’s our expert-approved guide into all things dry feet and cracked heels. If you were wondering, now is a good time to whack out your best moisturisers!
Meet the experts:
- Andrew Gladstone, podiatrist, MCRPod and founder of City Chiropody
- Lynn Mason, nail expert for Mavala
What causes dry feet and cracked heels?
Many of us are guilty of paying meticulous attention to our facial skin, but when it comes to the rest of our body, well, we leave it to dry out like the Sahara desert. But unsurprisingly, our feet are crying out for moisture, too. “Similar to other parts of our body, our skin can become dry when it lacks moisture,” says Mavala’s nail expert Lynn Mason. This can be influenced by a number of factors, including weather conditions, indoor heating, activity levels, footwear and individual susceptibility to dryness. “Neglecting to apply moisturiser to our feet, unlike the attention we give to other areas, can exacerbate dryness and lead to the development of cracked heels,” Lynn tells Glamour.
Some medical conditions may make you more susceptible to cracked heels, such as diabetes, eczema, hypothyroidism, juvenile plantar dermatosis, and Sjögren's syndrome.
When are cracked heels worse?
Often when we think of dry skin, we think of winter when the air is cold and temperatures indoors and out are fluctuating, putting our skin through a lot. But when it comes to feet, Lynn explains that the summer season is the worst. “When we switch to wearing sandals, it may come as a surprise that the increased airflow around our feet can actually lead to dryness of the skin.” Our activities in the summer also contribute to dryness. Things like spending time on the beach and walking barefoot can have an exfoliating effect as we walk, making our skin feeling smoother but also more prone to dryness, Lynn explains.
Who is more prone to dry, cracked feet?
If you’re someone who has dry facial skin, hair or nails, we’re sorry to say that your heels are probably more prone to dryness, too. “To help this, it is essential to prioritise moisturising routines after bathing or showering, as well as every morning and night, to maintain softer skin,” says Lynn.
“It is particularly crucial for people with diabetes to take extra precautions and ensure proper foot care, as they may have reduced sensation in their feet,” she warns. “By keeping their feet well-hydrated, they can help prevent cracked heels, which could potentially lead to open wounds,” which, in some cases, cause infection.
Ways to prevent cracked heels?
The answer is pretty simple actually: give your feet the same care as your face. OK, not exactly the same, we’re not asking you to do a 10-step routine on your feet. But at bare minimum, moisturise them a few times a week.
To keep them in tip top shape, “I always recommend applying a foot cream both in the morning and at night,” says Lynn. You can target the areas that are most dry like the heels, too. This combination of hard-working foot cream ingredients helps keep the skin of your feet well-moisturised, ensuring their overall health. "Use a good moisturiser at least once a day that contains urea which is a gentle chemical skin softener and is great at hydrating the skin rapidly,” says Andrew Gladstone, podiatrist, MCRPod and founder of City Chiropody. We like Mavala's Hydro-Repairing Foot Cream, and Eucerin's UreaRepair Plus 10% Foot Cream as both contain urea and are deeply hydrating.
Remove dead skin
Gently removing dead skin cells from feet is key to preventing cracking. Use a foot file or pumice stone to gently buff away old, dead skin, but be careful not to remove any of the healthy skin underneath. You should avoid this step if your heels are already noticeably cracked.
Get regular pedicures
Getting regular pedicures from a trained manicurist who has experience with foot conditions can help keep on top of cracked heels. Regular treatments that are booked in advance means your feet will rarely get to the stage that they’re dry and cracking because you know every few weeks they’re being buffed, polished and hydrated.
Use suncream on your feet
An area often forgotten about when it comes to sun protection is the feet. "The skin on your feet – particularly at the top – is very delicate and can burn easily," Andrew says, particularly if our feet have been covered with socks and shoes most of the year. So get slathering that SPF on. We love Altruist's Family Sun Spray SPF 50 is great because the formula is lightweight, non-greasy and has high protection and the nifty spray bottle makes specific areas easy to target.
Try an at-home foot peel mask
If you don’t currently have cracked feet but want to prevent dryness, reach for the gentle acids to do an at-home foot peel. Ingredients like glycolic acid and lactic acid work to slough off dead skin cells and reveal smoother skin underneath without the need for harsh scrubbing. Just don’t overdo it on this one, OK?
You can also buy ready-made foot peels in handy booties that work their magic while you sit and relax. We’ve done the hard work for you and tested them all and rounded up the best foot peels.
How to treat cracked heels?
The good news is, there are plenty of ways to treat cracked heels and dry feet.
Twice daily moisturising
If you want to rid your dry feet fast, twice daily moisturising is key. Moisturiser formulas are smart these days and you can get some that soak in almost instantly meaning you can slap on and go in the mornings. For lightweight moisture, we reach for Naturium's Bio-Lipid Body Lotion or Caudalie's Vinotherapist Foot Beauty Cream (which although thick, soaks in fast).
No need for thick, sticky creams that mean you’re unable to walk around for 20 minutes. At nighttime, slather on a thick layer of emollient cream and if you’re really serious about it, you can apply a light pair of socks to seal in the moisture. For bedtime, we always reach for the Flexitol Intensely Nourishing Foot Cream and Andrew recommends CCS's Foot Care Cream.
If you have diabetes and are experiencing severely dry feet, don’t apply creams at home to open wounds, visit your GP for specific advice.
Make a liquid bandage
If your feet are sore from dryness, try making a bandage at home to soothe the skin. "Try filling the crack with antiseptic cream, like Savlon or Sudocrem, then covering the area with either a gauze and tape or a plaster," Andrew explains. "Re-apply the plaster and cream daily for a few days until it stops hurting. The cream and the plaster will rapidly hydrate the skin and allow the edges of the crack to join together."
Wear shoes that fit properly
Those cute open toe sandals are tempting in the summer but if your cracked heels are severe, you might want to opt for some proper-fitting shoes until they heal. You can also get inserts for your shoes to make dry, sore feet feel a little bit more comfortable. Try some specific walking sandals for the summer months that are both stylish and comfortable.
When should you see a professional about cracked heels?
Sometimes at home measures just aren’t going to cut it. It’s important to know when to seek professional help from a GP or HCPC-registered podiatrist. If you have any concerns about your feet, definitely visit your doctor right away, especially if you think it could be related to a medical condition.