Byrdie Investigates: Is There a Link Between Cracked Heels and Vitamin Deficiencies?

woman filing heels

@oliveandjune

Painful and tricky to get rid of, cracked heels are one of those very common yet highly uncomfortable annoyances in life we could all happily do without. Cracked heels are particularly common during Winter when, in many regions, the cold and dry air saps the moisture from our skin leaving us with deep cracks that are sore to the touch. 

There are actually a bunch of different reasons you might experience cracked heels, from fungal infections to spending too much time wearing flip flops. But did you know that cracked heels can also be a sign of a vitamin deficiency? It turns out that cracked heels can arise if you’re deficient in vitamins C, B-3, or E, as these vitamins are all important to skin health. Ahead, discover the signs of cracked heels due to vitamin deficiency.

Here Are Some of the More Common Causes of Cracked Heels

  • Dry skin
  • Regularly wearing flip-flops, mules, or other shoes without heels or heel support
  • Walking barefoot
  • Trauma to the skin, such as frequent scraping or pumicing
  • Medical conditions like athlete’s foot, psoriasis, eczema
  • Standing for long periods of time without proper heel support
  • Cold weather
  • Prolonged exposure to moisture
  • Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly
  • Less commonly, dry and cracked heels can be seen among people with thyroid disorders, diabetes, and autoimmune conditions.
  • Dehydration
  • Fungal infections
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • A diet that’s too low in fat
  • Callus buildup

Are Cracked Heels a Sign of Vitamin Deficiency?

In rare cases, cracked heels can be a sign of vitamin deficiency. Most of the time, this is only seen in low- and lower-middle-income countries and is related to malnourishment and deficiencies of vitamins C, B-3 and E. 

 In higher income countries like the United States, it’s very rare for someone to experience cracked heels as a result of a vitamin deficiency. Instead, some medical conditions that are more frequently associated with dry and cracked heels include diabetes, eczema, hypothyroidism, Sjögren's syndrome, and others we’ve listed above

“Vitamin deficiency related cracked heels are not as common as [cracked heels associated with] medical conditions,” explains dermatologist Anna Guanche

These Are Some of the Most Important Vitamins For Skin Health

Vitamins C, B-3, and E are all important to your skin health. As we mentioned, people living in higher income countries are rarely deficient in these vitamins. But if you’re curious how these vitamins impact skin health, here’s what you need to know.

  • Vitamin C deficiency: Vitamin C deficiency can lead to a condition called scurvy, which can contribute to dry skin and cracked heels. Most commonly, it manifests as bleeding gums, bleeding around hair follicles (especially on the lower legs), and corkscrew hairs, explains Melanie Palm, who is a board certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor at University of California San Diego. You also might experience slow-healing wounds, hair loss, skin spots that arise from broken blood vessels, fatigue, and iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Vitamin B-3 deficiency: Vitamin B-3 is also known as niacin. A deficiency of this vitamin most commonly manifests with symptoms including dementia or memory loss, diarrhea, and dermatitis. “It can cause dry irritated, and red skin in a photodistributed (light-exposed) pattern including the face, v-neck of chest, hands, and feet,” Palm says. “It can also cause a red tongue.”
  • Vitamin E deficiency: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting your cells from damage. It also boosts immune function and can prevent clots from forming within your arteries. If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin E, you may experience muscle weakness, neurological symptoms like vision problems and loss of sensation, and skin problems like dry and dull skin, premature aging, and wrinkles.

"It’s important to take an overall supplement if you are unable to get a good balance of vitamins in your diet, says Orit Markowitz, who is a board certified dermatologist based in New York City. "Your hair, skin and nails are the window to a healthy body, so when there is breakdown of this, it’s a sign that the body is missing the vitamins and or balance it needs to be in tip top shape."

Try These Doctor Recommended Home Remedies For Cracked Heels

Avoid Scrubbing, Scraping, and Pumicing

"The best, longest lasting remedy is to stop scraping, scrubbing, or pumicing already damaged skin, Markowitz says. "Instead, try using an exfoliant cream with strong humectants like urea or lachydrin covered by saran wrap and left on for a few hours to allow the cream to be absorbed."

Exfoliate

"Exfoliating dry dead skin with a luffa sponge, or other agent such as a cream with urea or lactic acid can help remove dead skin while moisturizing," says Adam Mamelak, an Austin-based dermatologist.

Keep Your Feet Moisturized

Regularly moisturizing your feet is one of the simplest ways to treat dry, cracked heels. Often a simple lotion or cream will work, but you can also hydrate and moisten your skin with something like Vaseline or Aquaphor. Mamelak suggests locking in the Vaseline by wearing socks or wrapping your heels with saran wrap after applying it. Keep the socks onovernight to really let that moisture soak in.

Increase Your Water Intake

As if you don't already have enough reasons to drink more water, it shouldn't come as any surprise that this tried and true method can help with your cracked heels, too. Board certified podiatrist and foot surgeon Bruce Pinker recommends consuming at least eight to twelve glasses of water each day to hydrate your entire body, including your skin.

As far as over the counter options go, team Byrdie loves the Olive & June Heel Balm ($20). It's meant to be used as an overnight treatment so you don't have to slip and slide on your floors all day.

Try a Product That's Designed to Treat Cracked Heels

"There are several prescription and over the counter products containing petroleum and salicylic acid, and also stronger products with glycolic acid, that will exfoliate and soften the skin of the heels," Pinker says.

The Takeaway

A vitamin deficiency can contribute to cracked heels, but this is typically tied to malnutrition and not likely among people who live in higher income countries like the United States. Within the United States, it's more likely to develop dry, cracked heels as a result of dry skin, cold winter weather, walking barefoot or wearing backless shoes, and standing without heel support.

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