8 remedies for cracked heels and what causes them

Get those soles summer ready.

Woman stroking one of her cracked heels
(Image credit: simarik/Getty Images)

The best remedies for cracked heels can fix the problem quickly and don't have to cost a lot of money either.

Cracked heels are caused by a number of reasons – from not drinking enough water to diabetes. Thankfully, cracked heels are a problem that can be fixed with home remedies.

We asked three experts about why our feet sometimes suffer from dry skin, what the best remedies for cracked heels are and how to care for our feet in order to stop our heels becoming dry and cracked in future.

What causes cracked heels?

'Cracked heels are generally caused when the skin around the heel needs to split to cope with the pressure placed on the feet,' explains Emma McConnachie, spokesperson for the College of Podiatry in London.

For example, if you stand on your feet all day the pressure can contribute to cracked heels. 'The chances of it happening are increased if the skin is dry, if there's a build-up of dead skin known as callus, and if you wear backless shoes which will increase friction in the area,' says Emma.

There are other causes, too, says Tina Svetek, Cosmetic Scientist at the award-winning School of Natural Skincare. 'Ill-fitting shoes, as well as low levels of hydration, can all contribute to dry, calloused skin that starts to crack. Several medical conditions also cause cracked heels – for example, diabetes, fungal infections, psoriasis, eczema and obesity. However, even in healthy individuals, cracked heels can be quite common,' she says.

While the thick skin on our heels can look unsightly, it's there for a reason. 'Generally speaking, dry skin on our feet is actually protection for the tissues that lie beneath it – without that hardened horny layer of the skin every step we make would be much more unpleasant,' says Tina. 'Completely removing all of the dry skin is not possible, and it's not even a good idea. But when the skin gets too dry, it can start cracking and this can lead to pain and even deep, bleeding cracks.'

Best home remedies for cracked heels

Soak your feet once a week

'A simple foot soak done approximately once a week, followed with a rich nourishing cream, is a lovely way to keep the skin hydrated and soft,' says Tina, who suggests this quick DIY foot spa.  'Don't forget to use warm water, though. Hot water can cause dryness.'

Some people like to add fresh lemon juice to their foot soak as the acid in the fruit helps to get rid of dry skin cells. Soak for 10 minutes then scrub your feet with a soft brush.

A foot shaped pumice stone

A pumice stone gets rid of dead skin. (Credit: Getty)

Use a pumice stone

'If there's a build-up of dead skin you can buff this with a foot file or pumice stone,' says Emma. You can buy a pumice stone in most pharmacies or invest in the Magnitone Well Heeled 2 Pedicure System which provides two settings to buff away hard, rough skin.

However, don't over-do it. 'Avoid frequent mechanical removal of dry, cracked skin on the heels,' warns Tina. 'Using foot files (or pumices stones) too often, actually sends "protective dry skin layer is gone, we need to make more dry skin" information to the body. This only causes more and more dry skin build-up,' she says. 'Occasional removal is OK, as long as it's followed by regular use of hydrating foot products.'

If it's quite bad and you're not sure how manage it 'thicker build-ups can be safely removed by a podiatrist,' says Emma. 'It's not advisable to use sharp implements yourself to remove the skin – and if your cracks have been bleeding or look infected cover them with a clean, dry dressing and seek help,' she advises.

L'Occitane shea butter foot cream for cracked heels

Shea butter is kind to cracked heels. (Credit: L'Occitane)

Smother your feet in shea butter

'Apply a good moisturiser containing shea butter as a base,' recommends Natalie Gooding, podiatrist and owner of The Organic Foot Company. 'These ingredients are similar to our skins natural ph. and are easily absorbed by our skin,' she says. Try L'Occitane Shea Butter Foot Cream.

Solgar Female Multiple supplement

A multivitamin will give you a boost. (Credit: Solgar)

Treat deficiences

Certain deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamins B, C E and minerals iron and zinc, can contribute to cracked heels. If you think this may be the problem – for example, you may already have anaemia – taking a supplement can help. Trusted brand Solgar's Female Multiple is a multivitamin with minerals.

A view of a woman on a beach wearing espadrilles

Avoid slip-ons and wear comfortable shoes. (Credit: Getty)

Wear the right footwear

'To help reduce the chances of getting cracked skin around your heels, ensure your footwear fits correctly and try not to wear slip-on shoes,' says Natalie.

Tina agrees: 'Too-tight shoes can quickly cause blisters and horns, while too-loose shoes can cause horny and calloused skin due to constant rubbing of the shoe on the skin.' So treat your feet to well-fitted shoes and, in the summer months, when you start to wear flip-flops and open-back sandals again, moisturise your heels regularly so they suffer less from the lack of support your feet get from wearing them.

Eucerin Urea Repair Plus Foot Cream

A urea-based cream can really help. (Credit: Eucerin)

Slather on a urea-based cream

'Use a urea-based cream designed for cracked heels,' says Emma. 'These are easily available and are inexpensive to buy. An everyday cream would contain 5-10% urea and a cracked heel cream around 25% urea.'

One option is Eucerin Dry Skin UreaRepair Plus 10% Urea Foot Cream – it contains both urea and ceramide for instant moisturisation, and prevents moisture loss.

Amlactin AHA foot cream

AHAs can soothe and moisturise feet. (Credit: Amlactin)

Apply AHA sometimes

'Doing occasional treatments using alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) is a sure way to prevent too much dry skin build-up,' suggests Tina. 'Softening the skin with products that contain chemical exfoliants, such as AHAs, is a nice way to keep dry skin amount at bay. They can be found as occasional treatments (with high strength acids) or regular treatments (with low strength acids) – both hydrate the skin very well.'

AmLactin Foot Repair Foot Cream Therapy is well-rated and contains Alpha-Hydroxyl to exfoliate and hydrate your heels.

A woman applying moisturiser to her cracked heels

Regular moisturising is key. (Credit: Getty)

Moisturise your feet daily

'Moisturising feet frequently is the best solution for cracked heels,' says Emma. 'If you apply the cream thickly with socks overnight it doesn't speed up healing but it will hold the cream in place while it’s absorbed. But little and often works just as well. To maintain good quality skin use a pea-sized amount of a foot cream on your heels every day.' What's more you'll reap the benefits of a little self-care.

Natalie agrees: 'I would recommend applying a good moisturiser daily to help keep the skin hydrated,' such as her own Mint & Lime Foot Cream. 'Gently filing the skin first with an emery board will help remove dry skin and surface debris. This will allow a cream or balm to absorb better into the skin.'

A jar and spoon full of coconut oil for cracked heels

Coconut oil is especially good after a foot soak. (Credit: Getty)

Is coconut oil good for cracked heels?

'Coconut oil is excellent for cracked heels. It contains a high concentration of vitamin E and natural proteins that help repair damaged skin cells,' says Natalie. 'It also contains natural lauric acid, which has both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.'

For maximum results, Tina recommends using coconut oil after bathing. 'Coconut oil is good for skin, especially if applied after a soak,' she says. 'Bath water will provide moisture, while coconut oil with help to "lock" the moisture in.'

If you find coconut oil a little greasy, try Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Cream, which deeply penetrates dry skin.

How to care for your heels to stop them becoming dry and cracked

Our recommended home remedies for cracked heels will help keep your feet in tip-top shape. Sometimes, though, the condition may get worse before it gets better. Try a repair cream such as Scholl Cracked Heel Repair Cream – which contains keratin that acts as a "scaffold" to aid skin repair – or Margaret Dabbs' Cracked Heel Sealer, which creates a barrier to lock in moisture. If you need still need help, see a professional.

'A podiatrist can safely remove any dead skin build-ups and help advise on preventing reoccurrence,' advises Emma. 'Podiatrists (previously known as chiropodists) are trained to degree level and are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To see a podiatrist on the NHS, please check with your local area or GP. Or you can see a private podiatrist without the need for referral. You can search for one in your local area using this Find a Podiatrist function.'

'Occasionally cracks in the skin around your heels can provide an entry for bacteria or infection,' warns Natalie. 'If this occurs, seek professional advice and treatment from your podiatrist.'

Debra Waters
Freelance Lifestyle Writer

Debra Waters is an experienced online editor and parenting writer. She also has a strong background on health, wellbeing, beauty, and food. She currently writes for Goodto and Woman&Home, and print publications Woman, Woman’s Own, and Woman’s Weekly. Debra has written for What to Expect, Everyday Health, and Time Out. In addition, she has had articles published in The Telegraph and The Big Issue.