A natural enemy of sandals, slingbacks, and more of your beloved backless footwear, cracked heels are not only embarrassing to display but can cause significant discomfort, too. For many women, this common issue isn’t just inconvenient; it's also painful.
"Cracked heels can be from footwear, weather, or improper care to the skin," says New York City–based podiatrist Emily Splichal, DPM. Fortunately, cracked heels can be resolved more easily than you may think. It’s also possible to heal cracked heels using only natural, nontoxic ingredients, many of which you may already have on hand. To help you put your best foot forward, we asked Splichal and Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, California, for their favorite ways to heal cracked heels.
Meet the Expert
- Emily Splichal, DPM, is a podiatrist practicing at New York's Center for Functional and Regenerative Podiatric Medicine. She has a special interest in movement dysfunction and neuromuscular control during gait.
- Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care.
Read on to learn how to heal cracked heels with nine simple solutions.
Do a Soak
Cracked heels may be common, but this favorite solution is pure luxury. Since the skin on the base of the foot—especially in the heel area—is thicker and tougher than on other parts of the body, it requires a bit more effort to soften and moisturize. One of the best ways to do this is with a foot soak. Simply fill a tub or basin with lukewarm water, then add in a bit of cleansing white vinegar. Vinegar works to disinfect the skin and can also get rid of foul-smelling odors.
Scrub the Heels
About 10 to 15 minutes after your foot soak, remove your feet and gently exfoliate before patting dry with a clean towel. Splichal recommends that her patients address cracked heels with "a topical exfoliant that contains urea, lactic acid, or hyaluronic acid. One such product is Arm and Hammer Heels & Feet."
Another popular exfoliant for feet is Baby Foot Exfoliant Foot Peel ($25), a powerful peel that works to penetrate the skin via a blend of foot acids. "Baby Foot can help remove the dead skin—just know that this product can be irritating and may make the skin on your feet shed like crazy!" says Shainhouse.
Use a Tool
While scrubs are great, you can get even further exfoliation by employing a pumice stone a few times a week. "Two to three times a week after taking a shower or bath, use a mechanical debridement, such as a pumice stone, to remove the thick skin," says Splichal, who recommends Yves Rocher's tool.
Shainhouse adds that other tools work well, too. "Ped-Eggs or emory boards (nail files) can be used to gently remove the top layer of hard skin to make the calluses and hard patches immediately less tender," she says. A warning, though: "The skin will likely thicken back up if the trigger (like constant rubbing/friction or walking barefoot or in flip-flops) is not discontinued."
Apply a Balm or Moisturizer
One of the easiest and most effective solutions to heal cracked heels is by using an all-natural heel balm. Simply massage the balm into cracked skin that's clean and dry, ideally immediately after a foot soak. Shainhouse recommends her patients look for urea-based moisturizers, which can help hydrate and soften the skin. "These are available inexpensively over the counter or as a prescription in higher concentrations. Try Eucerin UreaRepair Plus Lotion ($25) with prescription-strength urea."
To let the product sink in even further, Splichal advises covering the feet. "In the evening after a bath or shower, you can also do Vaseline or sealant, such as Atopalm ($16) then applying socks," she says. A similar option is to wear moisturizing heel sleeves ($11), which nourish skin while trapping moisture to prevent further damage.
Slather On Coconut Oil
What’s good for the inside of the body tends to be good for the outside, too, and several of the best substances for healing cracked heels are superfoods. One of nature’s most perfect moisturizers, coconut oil is a natural healing solution that’s also antimicrobial. It doesn't do a great job of soaking into the skin but, like cocoa butter, will work to adhere thickly to the skin.
Smooth On Cocoa Butter
Likewise, raw cocoa butter has incredible moisturizing properties and is gaining plenty of traction when it comes to maintaining skin health. Scientific research has found that the bioactive compounds and fatty acids found in cocoa are effective for protecting the skin. When used on feet, the butter essentially acts as a glove, forming a protective barrier to lock in moisturizer.
Apply Olive Oil
Olive oil is another favorite natural moisturizer and can also serve as a soothing addition to foot soaks. Not only does it sink deeply into skin and create a natural moisture barrier, but it's also an ingredient you likely already have on hand.
Turn to Salicylic Acid
Not just used to combat breakouts, products containing salicylic acid can also help turn over new skin on the feet. "Salicylic acid gels and ointments can help exfoliate the hard skin," says Shainhouse. "Try CeraVe Psoriasis Moisturizing Cream, which contains 2 percent salicylic acid. Wear it under Saran wrap and a sock overnight for the best results."
Of course, if the cracks are especially deep or seem to be symptomatic of a more serious issue, smoothing cracked heels may be more involved than a trip to the pantry. "If the cracked heels become too deep, then it is advised to see a podiatrist, who can prescribe prescription-strength debridement agents or antibiotics if the area becomes infected," advises Splichal. Don’t be shy about consulting an expert, and you’ll be on the right path to restoring your feet in no time.