Wednesday, October 11, 2023

How to Soften Dry, Callused, Cracked Heels the Easy Way

As we age, we're more prone to developing dry, cracked heels that can be painful as well as unsightly. There are many contributing factors, some within our control and others not. However, if you suffer from cracked heels, you know they can be challenging to treat effectively.

I've tried many different treatments for this annoying condition. In today's review, I recommend some simple tips that have helped me the most. Here's to healing our dry, cracked heels!

How to Heal & Soften Dry, Callused, Cracked Heels

Background photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

What Causes Cracked Heels?

The helpful WebMD article "What to Know About Cracked Heels" explains that cracked heels can develop "When the skin around your heels becomes dry and thick...Extra pressure on the fat pad of your heels can cause dry, thick skin to form cracks, or heel fissures."

According to the article, contributing factors may include:

  • Wearing sandals, clogs, or other open-heeled footwear
  • Taking hot baths or hot showers
  • Using soaps with harsh ingredients
  • Standing for long stretches of time
  • Cold, dry weather
  • Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, athlete's foot, heel spurs, Sj√∂gren's syndrome, or juvenile plantar dermatosis

How to Treat and Repair Dry, Callused, Cracked Heels at Home

After consulting multiple reliable sources, here are the at-home foot care steps I have followed to heal my dry, cracked heels successfully. I repeat these steps periodically, as needed, to prevent and heal my heel cracks.

The best time to do these steps is just before bed to allow the healing foot cream or ointment to soak into the skin and do its work while you're sleeping.

Caveat: The WebMD article explains that "Occasionally, severely cracked heels can get infected and lead to a skin infection called cellulitis" and advises talking to your doctor "if your heels are severely cracked or don’t improve after you’ve treated them for a week."

Step 1: Use a diamond foot rasp to remove the top layer of thick calluses.

If your calluses aren't too thick and your heel cracks aren't deep, you can use a pumice stone after soaking your feet in warm, soapy water (see step 2). However, if your heels are extremely dry and have thick calluses, use either a Diamancel Diamond Foot Buffer #11 Medium Rasp or, for even thicker calluses, a Diamancel Diamond Foot Buffer #22 Coarse Rasp followed by the #11 Medium Rasp.

These files are an investment, but they will last for many years and can be easily washed in hot, soapy water and then dried and disinfected with isopropyl alcohol after each use.

Note: I have tried but do not recommend the "cheese grater" style metal foot file. It removes a lot of skin quickly and has sharp "teeth" that make it easy to accidentally remove too much callus and possibly cut into your skin, which could lead to infection. This type of foot file also leaves the surface very rough and requires a lot of effort to smooth with a pumice stone or fine diamond foot buffer.

Step 2: Soak your feet in warm, soapy water for 20 minutes.

Use gentle soap and warm, not hot water, in a tub or, if you prefer, a dedicated foot bath. Consider the affordable HoMedics Bubble Mate Foot Spa, a splash-proof, heated foot bath with water jets and raised massage nodes to pamper your tired feet. This is on my holiday wish list and would make a great gift, especially as part of a spa gift basket! 

(My mom had a heated foot bath many years ago that she used to bring with her to the nail salon when she got a pedicure since she was extremely conscious about good hygiene at the salon. She also loved using it at home to soothe her aching feet after a long day.)

After soaking your feet for 20 minutes, use a pumice stone to smooth away any calluses or, if you used a diamond foot rasp in step 1, to smooth any roughness left by the rasp(a).

Step 3: Towel-dry your feet well.

Use a clean, absorbent towel to dry your feet very thoroughly, especially in between your toes to help prevent athlete's foot.

Step 4: Apply a healing ointment or moisturizing cream.

I have tried numerous foot creams to heal dry, cracked heels. Based on my experience, if you have very dry, callused heels with fairly deep cracks, I highly recommend starting with the Kerasal Nighttime Intensive Foot Repair, Skin Healing Ointment for Cracked Heels and Dry Feet. I discovered this fantastic ointment thanks to the recommendation of a well-known and highly respected board-certified dermatologist on social media. I'm very grateful to her for introducing me to this miracle cracked heels treatment!

It contains 5% salicylic acid, 10% urea and soft white petrolatum to exfoliate, soften, and moisturize hard, dry, cracked, and callused heels, and is approved by the American Podiatric Medical Association. It comes in a small tube, but a little goes a long way.

Another good option is Ebanel Urea Cream 40% plus Salicylic Acid 2%. It has a consistency that one Amazon reviewer likened to Elmer's glue, which helps it adhere to the skin while it does its work. It may not be the most cosmetically elegant formulation, but it's extremely effective!

Once your feet are in better shape and your cracks have healed, you can switch to something less heavy-duty and more economical for daily or nightly maintenance. Good choices include Dr. Scholl's Dry, Cracked Foot Repair Ultra Hydrating Foot Cream, Miracle of Aloe Miracle Foot Repair Cream for Dry, Cracked Feet & Heels, or Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E Foot Magic Moisturizing Foot Cream. All of these are available on Amazon, and most can be found at a well-stocked drugstore.

Whichever cream or ointment you use, make sure to massage it in very well before putting on your heel socks or sleep socks.

Step 5: Put on heel socks or thin, breathable bed socks and wear them overnight.

I prefer wearing thin cotton or bamboo socks to bed if I'm applying my foot cream or ointment to the balls of my feet as well as my heels. Bamboo or cotton bed socks allow the skin to "breathe," and thin socks are less absorbent so your foot cream or ointment stays on the skin of your heels vs. on your socks.

My favorite socks for this purpose (and also my favorite summer or warm weather socks) are the SERISIMPLE Women's Bamboo Ankle Socks. They come in a pack of five pairs for less than $17 (at the time of this post's publication), so $3.40 a pair, and they are excellent quality! They are thin, soft, and lightweight and slip on easily over foot cream or ointment. They also come in a very large selection of pretty pastel, mid-tone, and dark color assortments.

But if my feet are in really rough shape and I'm applying the ointment just to my cracked heels, I'll put on toeless, silicone-lined heel socks before going to bed.

For the latter, I really like the ZenToes Moisturizing Fuzzy Sleep Socks. The outer shell is a soft, fleece material, while the heel is lined with a silicone gel infused with jojoba seed oil, olive oil, and vitamin E to add an extra layer of softening and moisturizing ingredients where they are needed most.

ZenToes Moisturizing Fuzzy Sleep Socks
ZenToes Moisturizing Fuzzy Sleep Socks
(2 pairs) on Amazon

The silicone gel creates a warm, hydrating environment that helps your foot cream or ointment penetrate while you sleep. These open-toed sleep socks are also washable and reusable, and one size fits most. Even after the infused oils are used up, they still work perfectly with your preferred foot cream.

I also love that these are made by a small, woman-owned business based in Wisconsin. Although the socks are not manufactured in the USA, the company prides itself on doing three product quality checks before they are shipped out to customers: before they leave the factory, when they are received at the USA warehouse, and when they are packaged in that USA warehouse.

In addition, ZenToes uses individuals with diverse abilities who work for Opportunities, Inc. in Wisconsin, a Community Rehabilitation Program, to package their products "with dignity and purpose."

For a short-term quick fix, replace steps 4 and 5 with an intensive repair foot mask.

There are Kerasal Nighttime Intensive Repair Foot Masks that can be used instead of steps 4 and 5, although as single-use products they are less economical (and less environmentally responsible). But they're great if you want to try out the Kerasal Nighttime Intensive Foot Repair ointment to see how you like it before investing in heel socks or thin cotton bed socks.

Also, if you want to wear sandals, go to the beach, etc., and notice at the last minute that your heels are cracked, you can use the Kerasal Daytime Intensive Repair Foot Mask (pack of 2 pairs). These won't deliver the same results as steps 1–5, but they can definitely improve the way your feet and heels look and feel in less than half an hour.

To use them, start by washing and drying your feet thoroughly. Then, remove one pair of the foot masks and put them on. Put your feet up and relax (they're too slippery to walk around in) for 20 minutes, then remove the covers and massage any residue of the healing cream into your feet.

Helpful Tips to Prevent Heel Cracks

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To keep your feet and heels soft, smooth and healthy, here are some habits to adopt that can help prevent or reduce calluses and heel cracks:

  • Avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces
  • Wear closed-heel footwear
  • Take warm, not hot, baths or showers
  • Use mild soaps
  • Dry your feet and in between your toes thoroughly to avoid athlete's foot
  • Keep your skin at a comfortable temperature and moisturize your feet daily and/or nightly with a foot cream after showering or bathing and drying the skin well

Disclaimer

I am not a medical professional and this article should not be construed in any way as medical advice. When in doubt, consult your doctor before attempting to treat your cracked heels at home.

How to Soften Dry, Callused, Cracked Heels the Easy Way by Margaret Schindel

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8 comments:

  1. This is very helpful advice for anyone needing remedies for foot and heel care. Thanks for your review of the various options available to soften dry callused cracked heels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are most welcome, Elf! The diamond rasps are the best and safest way to take down calluses, in my opinion, but even without them, the rest of this protocol can make a big difference in the appearance, comfort and health of our feet.

      Delete
  2. I love the little heel only covering socks! I don't like wearing socks to bed. They tend to make me too hot in the middle of the night and I wake to pull them off. I would love to find out if I could tolerate these half socks all night long. I also appreciate the product recommendation for ointments that help dry, cracked heels. I used to swear that walking on the sand in Florida worked as a free pumice stone, but I haven't been to Florida in a few years. I guess I might need one of those now too. Thanks for the suggestions based on real experience!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sylvestermouse, walking on beach sand is, indeed, a great way to gently "sand away" calluses! Unfortunately, for many of us, it's not available to us year-round, lol. If you find that wearing socks makes you too hot at night, I would suggest the regular ZenToes gel lined heel socks, rather than the fuzzy ones I featured. :)

      Delete
  3. Your self-care advice is always so detailed and on point - I used to have this problem many years ago, and it was very frustrating - if it creeps back again, I'll have your advice to refer to - I also love those heal covering socks; I would use those!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So glad you were able to resolve your dry, callused, cracked heels issue, Barbara! The heel socks with the silicone gel lining are great to sleep in after applying the heel ointment or cream.

      Delete
  4. Excellent information! Great read with lots of helpful tips

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your kind feedback. Much appreciated! I’m glad you found this information helpful.

      Delete

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