BY Dr. Michael E. Graham. DPM, FACFAS FEBRUARY 19, 2018
About the Author
Dr. Michael E. Graham, DPM, FACFAS is a board certified podiatric foot & ankle surgeon and the inventor of Soleus Foot Care products and numerous implantable surgical devices for foot abnormalities. He founded GraMedica, an orthopedic medical device company in 2003 and began distribution of FDA-cleared products in 2004. Dr. Graham has authored more than a dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies and lectures worldwide on foot & ankle related topics.
Did you know that his Soleus Foot Care Collection is now available nationally? Check out our latest Press Release here.
This article includes a guide to assessing the warning signs of dry cracked feet, covers the origins of cracked feet, provides a review of traditional home remedies and recommendations on over-the-counter cures, and suggestions to avert the return of this common problem.
Warning Signs of Cracked Dry Feet
Who sees more dry cracked dry feet every single day than a podiatrist? Maybe a lifeguard, but that’s about it. Before a professional decides how to treat a problem it is crucial to assess whether a patient has dry cracked feet rather than a simple case of dry skin, which can be cured with a gentle wash or rub (also known as “exfoliation”). This option for less severe dry skin of the feet removes a superficial layer of dead skin.
The warning signs of cracked dry feet can range from mild symptoms like rough, coarse texture to issues as serious as bleeding. Dry, cracked feet don’t resolve on their own and the issues usually get worse the longer the problem goes untreated.
Below you will see examples of the warning signs for dry cracked feet a Podiatrist will usually look for to make a diagnosis:
1. Rough, Coarse Texture
One of the first manifestations are these changes in the skin’s surface and usually the big cracks on the feet and heels have not become visible. It is in this stage the feet are easiest to treat before deeper layers of the skin have become affected.
An important observation of the heel should be made. White-appearing, tough and rough heels can quickly develop into cracked heels. Your feet are screaming for help at this point. It’s best to take care of them now.
2. Flaking Feet
A second warning sign of cracked dry feet is skin flaking from the feet and the heels (especially around the edges). When you see this symptom, it’s certain some serious foot care is in order.
If ignored and left untouched, the flaking feet will next develop cracks. The rough, coarse, or flaking feet are easier to treat than those which have been permitted to progress to full-blown cracking.
3. Cracked Feet
Once cracks can be observed by the naked eye on the feet and heels it’s time for a professional quality cure for dry cracked feet.
Once cracks have developed, it is very common for patients to complain of itching. The itchy feet may only bother some occasionally, but for many, the problem is never-ending and interferes with their daily routine. The itchy feet are screaming “get this dead skin off me!”
5. Rash on the Feet
Dry, cracked feet may also be more vulnerable to organisms that can cause infections. The skin is the body’s first line of defense against infection and cracks can allow bacteria and fungus to enter. Often a diagnosis of “tinea pedis” is made based on a doctor’s observations of such rashes. Tinea pedis is usually the result of fungus and is most often treated with a medication such as tolnaftate that’s used in over the counter medications. It’s important to note that treating the rash on severely cracked feet without addressing the cracks themselves is ineffective- the rash will return.
6. Bleeding Cracks on Feet
Untreated cracked feet will just develop deeper cracks over time. The more tender layers of skin, well below the surface, have numerous blood vessels, so severe cracks can easily lead to bleeding which is yet another risk factor for developing infection.
Common Causes of Cracked Feet
There are many causes of dry cracked feet.
Depending on your health, lifestyle and foot care routine, any number of causes could be contributing to your problem with cracked feet:
1. Failure to Moisturize
Many people have dry skin but ignore the problem. Routine application of a podiatrist-recommended moisturizer is a great first step to prevent the development of dry cracked feet. A regimen including a scrub and moisturizer is ideal.
2. Prolonged Weight Bearing
Spending the better part of the day standing and walking on hard surfaces is a common cause of cracked feet. In addition to a foot care regimen, a podiatrist may recommend inexpensive inserts for your shoes that can help distribute the force to lessen impact on vulnerable portions of the foot.
Every extra pound you are carrying around is an extra pound resting on the foundation of your body- your feet. The extra weight makes the job of the feet more difficult. If you shed a few extra pounds, your feet will thank you. Most people don’t associate being overweight with dry cracked feet, but believe it- Your weight is an important factor.
4. Cold Temperatures
Winter’s cold temperatures usually bring low humidity, dry furnace air and uncomfortable boots. This reduced humidity makes the development of dry skin much more likely.
5. Harsh Hygiene Products
Unforgiving skin care products, and especially those without moisturizers, can rob your feet of their natural moistness. If you use a harsh soap or skin cleanser, it’s crucial you consider a change or routinely moisturize to prevent dry cracked feet.
Traditional Remedies For Cracked Feet
Understanding the warning signs of cracked dry feet is just the first step. It’s likely you’re reading this article because you’ve already observed one or more of the symptoms we covered earlier and are now looking for a cure. There are many traditional remedies for cracked feet that work and many that don’t.
Scrubbing the Feet
To remove dead skin from dry feet many people will go purchase what’s called a pumice stone. These bits of lava rock can make a decent foot scrubbing tool, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The fact these stones are a natural product can mean the little pores that perform the work can have a great deal of variability in size- some coarse, others very fine. This makes it difficult to predict how any given pumice will perform. Another drawback is their perceived durability and expense. Since the pumice is often sold attached to a fancy handle (and the fact it’s “a rock”) people think they last forever. Over time, the little pores can become clogged which lessens their usefulness. It’s for these reasons I recommend a quality disposable synthetic scrubbing sponge like the one included in the Soleus Skin and nail kit. These sponges provide a predictable scrubbing action, are easily rinsed clean and can be responsibly disposed of on a routine basis.
Natural Moisturizers and Exfoliants for Cracked Dry Feet
Products like honey, coconut oil, vegetable oil, menthol-containing petrolatum rubs and even milk have been touted by many as a cure for cracked feet. These remedies are purported to add moisture and often seek to “lock in” this moisture. These home remedies can be of some benefit, but you need to make sure you don’t skip the first and most important step of preparing the feet. If you don’t adequately remove the dead skin, you are just making a greasy layer of dry cracked skin. Routine care is the only lasting solution.
What’s the doctor-recommended cure? The easiest way to cure dry cracked feet and to prevent their return is by using my Soleus Foot Care Collection. The Skin and Nail Kit includes: a softening cream that dissolves dead dry skin cells from the soles, heels and sides of the feet, activator cream that kills fungus, leaves skin smooth and protected, and a nail rejuvenation elixir to restore the natural shine and healthy appearance of the nails.