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Dry Cracked Heels: Causes

Cracked heels, before and afterXerosis or dry skin affects more than just hands and elbows. Dry skin contributes to cracked heels, creating unsightly fissures. Deep cracked heels or heel fissures are not only unattractive, but can be painful and may even bleed if left untreated. Usually a simple cosmetic issue, cracked heels may lead to more serious medical problems.

Common causes for cracked heels

Heel skin, on the bottom and outer edge, that is rough, dry, hard and flaky often is the result of one or more factors. Common causes for cracked heels include regular exposure to a dry climate, regular barefoot walking and constant heel exposure to any air via open-backed shoes such as sandals or flip flops. Daily exposure to hot, dry air such as the climate experienced during a typical summer season contributes to cracked heels.

Other external causes for dry, cracked skin on the heels can include irritation from synthetic materials often found in footwear, both shoes and socks. These synthetic materials may inhibit proper air flow — the skin on feet (and heels) need to breath to keep dry, flaking skin at bay. Standing in one place for several hours daily, as required by a job, also can cause heel cracks and discomfort.

Physical causes

Beyond external causes, deep cracked heels may occur as a result of inactive sweat glands and/or obesity. Inactive sweat glands, typically the result of inherited genes, contribute to dryness on the foot and ultimately cracking skin at the heels. Sweat gland activity can be restricted by bathing regularly with very hot water. Obesity, which adds extra weight on the feet, also can damage sweat glands. With each step, the skin on the feet stretches and carrying excess weight can make this worse. Continual stretching of dry skin creates deeper cracks, often painful.

Certain chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis cause skin redness and flaking. These conditions can affect any skin area, including the feet in the form of dry, cracked heels. People suffering from eczema or psoriasis and experiencing heel fissures should consult their dermatologist for a treatment plan.

Biomechanical foot disorders and heel cracks

Biomechanics is body movement. Foot disorders that affect the way a person walks, such as flat feet or high arches, can cause friction between the foot and shoe. Too much friction or excessive pressure on the heel with each step can lead to thickened, dry skin and eventually the formation of heel fissures.

Dangers of cracked heels

Deep cracked heels present a danger to anyone suffering from a compromised immune system or from diabetes. Infection is risked if cracked heels are left untreated. Infection can lead to cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that must be treated with antibiotics by a doctor. Diabetic patients suffering from deep heel fissures run the risk of developing diabetic foot ulcers, which also must be treated by a doctor.

Daily care for heels

Regular foot care should extend beyond toenail trimming. Dealing with cracked heels includes exfoliation of the heel skin with a pumice stone to remove calluses plus regular moisturizing. Moisturize the heels daily with a cream or balm to keep the skin hydrated and soft to the touch. Wearing socks over the moisturized heel will help with absorption.

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+Dr.Cheryl Lee   is a board certified dermatologist with 14 pattons and 4 FDA approvals on her eczema cure. Read more at cherlyleemd.com

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