Dry feet and cracked heels can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and even painful. So what causes dry cracked heels? There are several factors that cause this epidemic such as: soaps that dry out your skin, plain old drying of the skin—which is made worse if you don’t wear socks on cement or hard wood floors, cold weather, too much exposure to the sun and the unavoidable element of aging. In addition, some sufferers of this condition have medical reasons such as diabetes and thyroid disease that create this unwanted side effect of dry feet and cracked heels. Now that you know the causes of cracked heels, naturally your next question is what is good for cracked heels, for both the treatment and prevention?
In fact, so many people battle this condition, there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of creams and home remedies that have come forth alleging they can help with the treatment, prevention and cure of this discomfort. So which treatment will work best for you? With so many options out there, is it even possible to cure cracked heels? I researched the top 10 simple home remedies for cracked heels and composed a list of questions that I believed needed further clarification from someone with medical expertise. So please before opening your pantry and dousing your feet with the contents inside, take a listen to what Cheryl Lee Eberting, M.D., said in response to the questions concerning these simple home remedies. Explore which, if any, of these home remedies are facts, myths or plausible, in the following interview with expert dermatologist, Dr. Cheryl Lee Eberting.
Vaseline & Bag Balm Remedy
One home remedy I have continued to come across in my online research suggests that using Vaseline or Bag Balm can aid in relieving cracked heels. Some research further alleged, that using a petroleum based product can actually prevent further problems with dry cracked heels. Does Vaseline help cracked heels? If so, what are your thoughts concerning this method?
Dr. Lee: First of all, when you are looking for a cure for cracked heels, I recommend you look very closely at any before and after photos. If you can see the thickened skin is gone, the cracks are gone and the skin lines are present in the after photo, then you have a good product. If you can see thickened skin but the skin still has fewer cracks and is just a little more smooth, than you do not have a solution.White petrolatum is really great at preventing water from leaving the skin and it is quite hypoallergenic. The problem with plain old petrolatum for cracked heels is that it really doesn’t add any moisture to the skin, it doesn’t supply any of the lipids that are deficient from abnormal skin and it really doesn’t get absorbed into the skin---it just sits there and is very greasy. When combined with essential skin lipids like cholesterol esters and ceramides, you will see that the skin becomes much more hydrated and normal feeling. Plain old petrolatum doesn’t do this.
As for Bag Balm, I can’t recommend it from a toxicity/skin irritant standpoint. I advise against the use of this product for two reasons: 8-Hydroxyquinoline Sulfate---this chemical seems to be the “secret sauce” in this product and is a toxin with unknown safety profiles. It is listed as a level 4 toxin by the Environmental Working Group. Additionally, it is a sulfate; sulfates are salts of sulfuric acids—obvious skin irritants. Bag Balm also has a high concentration of lanolin. Lanolin is a very common allergen and should not be used on people who have eczema or a disrupted skin barrier. The wool alcohol component of lanolin is what is so allergenic and can really cause great confusion when someone with eczema is using an emollient that contains lanolin in it because sometimes the lanolin worsens the eczema a little bit while the emollient calms it a little bit….but the skin never gets all the way better. For this reason, I advise against the use of lanolin or wool alcohols on the skin.
Paraffin Wax Remedy
Paraffin wax is a foot treatment that is ideally associated with pedicures; however I found this to be listed as one of the 10 simple home remedies for cracked heels. Online reviews suggest mixing the paraffin wax with coconut oil and/or mustard oil to create a mixture to cure cracked heels. What are your thoughts concerning this home remedy as a cracked heels treatment?
Dr. Lee: I really like paraffin wax for cracked heels and that is why I have included it in several of my products. The use of this wax alone is not going to be the greatest thing on earth; it is a lot of work to melt the wax, peel it off and clean it up. You would need to do this several times over several days or weeks and wait for hours with it on to get really effective results. With a single treatment, your skin will be softer, but your deep cracks will remain and will need more work.
Homemade Foot Soaks Remedy
Homemade foot soaks for cracked heels are mentioned frequently as applicable remedies. My research concluded the unanimous three for healing cracked heels were: warm water, warm salt water and a soak of warm water with the addition of honey. Epsom salt for cracked heels was strongly recommended for the warm salt water soak, though it was alleged that table salt would suffice. All foot soak remedies suggest the use of a pumice stone in addition to the soak. A foot soak for dry cracked heels seems like a plausible solution; but what, if any, foot soak is ideal for dealing with cracked heels?
Dr. Lee: Soaking the feet in warm water, salt water or in Epsom salts will indeed hydrate the skin and make it softer for pumice treatment; however the biggest problem then becomes hyper-hydration of the thick, cracked skin. Hyper-hydration is not good for this skin and can lead to a wicked cycle of wet skin that then becomes thickened and then dries and then cracks and peels. It is a good idea to pumice the skin when it is wet however, and I love Epsom salts or vinegar soaks if you have a super-deep crack that may be infected. I think the Epsom salts or vinegar are quite effective at drawing out infection.
As mentioned above, another soak suggests pouring honey into warm water and then soaking your feet for 15-20 minutes. Studies suggest honey has healing properties as a natural antibacterial and that it works well as a moisturizer. Can honey cure cracked heels; or will this remedy leave you with nothing more than a sticky situation?
Dr. Lee: I am afraid you are looking at a sticky situation here. Honey is indeed an effective antibacterial agent and I have personally used it for chronic wounds for this reason. The effectiveness of honey for wound infections is likely due to its very high osmolality compared to the fluid inside of bacteria. This high osmolality probably destroys bacterial cell walls. As a treatment for cracked heels however, I don’t think you would note much improvement unless you are trying to treat infection that may be associated with a very, very deep crack.
Bananas or Papaya Remedy
Bananas were listed in the 10 simple home remedies for cracked heels. The idea was to blend the bananas into a paste and apply the paste to cure cracked heels. This option promoted itself as being the most inexpensive and natural way in dealing with cracked heels. One article noted papaya could replace bananas as an option for the paste. Do bananas/papayas have healing properties that do in fact, cure cracked heels; or would you be better suited in throwing some strawberries into the blender with your bananas to create a delicious smoothie?
Dr. Lee: Lets start with papayas and the method by which skin normally sloughs off. Normal skin is subject to a group of enzymes called proteases that digest the proteins that hold the skin cells together. As the skin cycles, these enzymes are activated leading to the normal sloughing of the skin. For some reason, these enzymes are not working in the thickened cracked skin of cracked heels—possibly due to some Calcium gradient-dependent enzymes. Papaya has a protease enzyme called papain that may be effective in treating cracked heels because it is a protease—this means that it breaks down certain proteins. I do not know if papain breaks down the particular proteins that need to be broken down in the skin of cracked heels, however I have used papain-containing products to treat chronic wounds because it was effective at debriding dead tissue in the non-healing wounds. I have not tried papain for cracked heels nor have I tried papaya. The skin of the papaya has the highest concentration of the papain; however the skin is also the most allergenic part of the papaya and I would not recommend applying it to your skin as you could possibly make yourself allergic to it by doing so. It is funny, but the immune system in our skin is very different than the immune system in our gut. There are many chemicals that cause an allergic reaction when they are applied to the skin, but do not do so when they are eaten or injected into the body. Tochopherols (Vitamin E) and topical diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and topical benazocaine or tetracaine products are examples of this.
Dr. Lee: Now lets talk about bananas. Have you seen those internet adds with a picture of belly fat and bananas and a caption that says something like “10 foods you should never eat”? Well, I have never clicked on those ads, but I bet they are trying to convince you not to eat bananas for the very same reason that they would be ineffective for treating cracked skin on the heels. Bananas have a very high concentration of protease inhibitors. This is the exact opposite thing that you need to get the skin on your heels to slough. In your gut you have proteases called trypsin and chymotrypsin that are used by your body to break down proteins so they can be digested—bananas and especially very ripe bananas inhibit these enzymes and make it more difficult to digest proteins (which may actually be a good thing in the excessive animal-protein eating diet of America, but that is another discussion). At any rate, I do not think bananas are going to do anything when applied to your skin, except for possibly make you allergic to them too. As a matter of fact, if you are allergic to latex or rubber as many people are, approximately 30-70% of those people have a food allergy to bananas, avocados, kiwi and chestnuts. Again, applying banana to your skin could possibly make you allergic to it and any of these other foods and that would be a sad day.
Drinking Water Remedy
There is no contesting that drinking water is not only good for you, but a necessity in life. One remedy suggests dehydration is what causes dry cracked heels. The thought behind this was obvious, drink more water. Is the answer for how to heal cracked heels really as simple as drinking more water?
Dr. Lee: No.The dehydration part of the problem in cracked heels likely does not come from the inside out as much as it comes from the outside in. If you have ever moved from a home that has carpet to one that has hardwood floors, then you know that the relative humidity and hydration of the skin on the heel itself is affected by this change in what your feet come in contact with. You would note that you drank the same amount of water in both situations and that your heels became more cracked in the home with hardwood floors. A better solution may be to wear socks, but this is not realistic for all of use bare-foot loving people.
Exfoliating Homemade Scrubs Remedy
Some sort of exfoliation scrub sounds conceivable enough for a cracked heels treatment. I discovered an oatmeal scrub and a scrub made with rice flour. Both suggested they would exfoliate the dead skin from deep cracked heels while moisturizing your skin naturally. Neither of these scrubs claim to prevent or cure cracked heels however; furthermore these treatment options were to be repeated daily. What is your medical opinion concerning these homemade scrubs ability to cure cracked heels; is exfoliation of the dead skin really enough?
Dr. Lee: I do not think so.This doesn’t even sound convincing enough to me to even try it. The thick skin of cracked heels is so adherent that a superficial scrub is not going to take off all those dead cells. I could see an exfoliating scrub like this possibly helping for a very superficial facial exfoliation, but the depth and thickness of the skin on some people’s heels is unbelievable and would likely not be touched by rice flour or oatmeal.
Due to their naturally acidic properties, lemons have been noted as an effective home remedy for how to take care of cracked heels. The idea is to apply lemon juice directly to the dry cracked heels, soak your feet for a time duration of 15-20 minutes, then to wash the lemon juice off and scrub your feet with a pumice stone. Is the application of acidic lemon juice a credible method of how to fix cracked heels?
Dr. Lee: The citric acid found in lemons does have some exfoliating properties. If you have ever gotten a concentrated acid on your skin, then you know that it is pretty caustic and can actually break down the proteins that hold skin together. The citric acid in lemon juice may work the same way, but be careful not to get it onto your normal skin because it will likely irritate it quite a bit.
Dr. Lee: First of all, I think these products are quite expensive for a single treatment, though I have seen good results from these products. These products are like a little plastic sock wrap that you leave on the feet for an hour or two and then wait for them to peel. The skin is killed by the ingredients in the wrap and the thick, dead skin peels off over the next few days and it can be a little frightening if you’ve never seen it happen before. The problem with these products however, is from a chemical toxicity standpoint. The number of plant extracts and oils in these products is staggering. If you were to take one plant extract that is found in some of these products, say orange oil for example, and do a Google search on “orange oil and gas chromatography”. You will see a very long list of 40-50 chemicals that make up orange oil. If you then take each one of those chemicals and type in “thujene” (the first chemical on the list) and “carcinogenicity” you will see that many, if not most, of the chemicals in these plant oils and extracts are very, very potent carcinogens!!! If you multiply this times the number of different plant extracts that are in these products, you have several hundred potential carcinogenic chemicals that you are putting on your skin and leaving them there to soak in. If you are concerned about chemical allergens and toxins, it is best not to use these products for this reason. If you don’t care about carcinogenesis, allergenicity and toxicity, then these products are pretty effective. I personally prefer to use products that are as hypoallergenic and non-toxic with the fewest ingredients possible.
Glycerin & Rosewater Remedy
Glycerin was among the list for home remedies for dry feet and cracked heels. Glycerin is found in many cosmetics and is believed to aid in moisturizing. The addition of rose water was said to add vitamins for further healing of deep cracked heels. This remedy was a daily foot soak, alleging results in about two weeks. What is your medical opinion concerning this remedy as being a feasible method of how to take care of cracked heels?
Dr. Lee: I have never personally tried this as I , like most people, do not have time to do a foot soak every day for two weeks. Glycerin is a very effective humectant. That means that it efficiently pulls water from the environment into itself. I do know that if glycerin is present at over 3% on the skin, then the glycerin can no longer get enough water from the air and will begin pulling water from the skin that it is sitting on. You end up with this weird goodish-looking, but really tight-feeling skin that is prone to cracking because it is so desiccated. I would steer clear of this one too.
Cooking Oils Remedy
I came across conflicting suggestions concerning the type of oil best suited in curing cracked heels; however there was a consensus that some form of oil such as: olive, coconut, vegetable and even sesame oil work well for both treatment and prevention. The home remedy suggest after scrubbing away dead skin with a pumice stone, to apply the oil to your feet, put on socks and sleep with the oil on overnight. Is this a viable option for treatment and prevention; if so, does one oil work better than the others for deep cracked heels?
Dr. Lee: While developing my own products for cracked heels I experimented on my own heels with numerous different oils including olive, coconut, safflower and sesame oils to name a few. One thing that I learned is that a plain oil without an effective way to keep moisture IN (waxes and petrolatum) and without including the skin lipids that are actually missing or deficient from dry or abnormal skin (ceramide 3, phystosphingosin, cholesterol esters, very long chain fatty acids) was quite ineffective. I call these lipids Essential Skin Lipids because they are not the same as the essential fatty acids and they are not only fatty acids.
Many products promote that they have “essential fatty acids”—meaning the fatty acids that the body must get from the diet. These essential fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid). Unfortunately, these fatty acids are NOT the ones that have been scientifically proven to be deficient from dry, aged and eczema prone skin. It is important to determine what lipids are actually missing from the skin in particular and then supplement those. This is the technology upon which my products are based.
Listerine Foot Soak Remedy
Perhaps the number one alleged solution I came across, was a home remedy for cracked heels using Listerine. While I discovered many articles suggesting this home remedy, there were notable differences in the recipe. One recipe suggested mixing Listerine with white distilled vinegar, another said apple cider vinegar was the way to go. It was also debated on whether to use amber colored Listerine or the fresh burst flavor in the Listerine foot soak for dry cracked heels. Have you ever heard of this treatment being a legitimate remedy for dealing with cracked heels; or when it's said and done are you really just left giving your feet a minty fresh feeling?
Dr. Lee: Listerine is full of alcohol. Thymol, eucalyptol and methyl salicylate, menthol and lots of other unnatural chemicals. I cannot go into each one here, but they are not the most friendly to our DNA. Also, there are some reports that the regular use of mouthwash increases your odds of upper aerodigestive cancers over three-fold. I’ll pass on the mouth wash.
I understand that you have invented a product for cracked heels that is super safe and not full of toxic chemicals but that also has totally amazing results. Would you care to share the science and methodology behind your remarkable product, TrueLipids Relieve & Protect Ointment?
Dr. Lee: The TrueLipids line of products are based upon a patent-pending technology that I developed for all forms of abnormal skin. In a nutshell, the technology is designed to help the skin to heal itself. Our products are the only ones in the world to address all five problems of an abnormal skin barrier all in one product line:
- Specific lipid deficiencies
- Abnormally high pH
- Susceptibility to infection
- A likelihood to develop allergies to chemical
Dry skin, aged skin, and eczema-prone skin all share common deficiencies in lipid content. There are many products out there that replace the lipids that are found in normal skin, but ours are the only products that replace the lipids that are DEFICIENT from abnormal skin. In addition to this, the products are all scientifically engineered to help put the skin back into the “environment” or “conditions” it needs to heal itself and live its life normally.
Our products also help to optimize the pH of the skin. The pH of the skin is supposed to be between 4.6 and 5.6. When you have any sort of skin problem or infection, the pH goes up and the enzymes that make skin lipids are literally chopped up and stop making lipids. The skin then dries out, peels, gets itchy, and is prone to infection. By holding the skin in the optimal pH range, the skin can resume lipid production and bad bacteria are discouraged. Our products all address inflammation. Inflammation often inhibits healing. By employing a patent-pending combination of niacinamide and 18-B glycyrrhetinic acid (an extract from licorice root), we have found amazing benefits to not only cracked heels, but we have had numerous people find great relief for conditions like eczema and even cutaneous lupus and dermatomyosis!
If you've tried all of the above without results, be sure to check out Dr. Lee's cracked feet cure!