The best treatment for cracked heels according to foot experts

Podiatrists and foot experts suggest the best treatment for cracked heels and how to treat cracked heels at home

A pair of women's feet with red nails, crossed at the ankles with blue sky in the background for an article about treatment for cracked heels
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Getting treatment for cracked heels from a professional is the best course of action if you have a specific medical condition causing the concern. However, if the cause of your cracked heels is not due to a specific medical condition then there are ways to treat cracked heels at home.

Cracked heels are a common foot concern, especially during the summer months when we’re more likely to be wearing sandals and flip flops, or even walking barefoot. Fortunately, you can often treat cracked heels at home using targeted products and remedies, usually without the need to visit your GP. There are also some preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of future foot issues.

To help you get a step ahead when it comes to cracked heels, we’ve called on the expertise of podiatrist consultant Dr Jo McCardle, podiatrist Paola Ash and consultant orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon Dr David Gordon.

As well as their insight into the main causes of cracked heels and the best way to treat them, they also reveal whether you can fix cracked heels permanently. Our experts also explain when to see a doctor or podiatrist about cracked heels, and highlight what red flags to look out for that might mean you need more urgent medical care. Remember that if you are ever unsure or concerned about your skin or symptoms that have appeared, then you should always seek personalised advice from a doctor as soon as possible.

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 Royal 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.

"The skin on the bottom of the feet is around 20 times thicker than the rest of the body," explains Dr McCardle. "They have no sebaceous glands, meaning no natural moisture is provided, making this area of the body more prone to dryness." The thick, hardened skin on our feet serves as a form of protection, helping us to withstand a certain amount of friction or pressure. However, it can sometimes trigger thicker areas to form on the heels, causing cracks to appear. 

Certain lifestyle factors can contribute to the presence of cracked heels. "Walking and running creates friction and pressure, which can lead to skin thickening, with the heels particularly vulnerable," notes Dr McCardle.

Similarly, there are some other lesser-known triggers. "These include walking barefoot for extended periods, wearing unsupportive open-backed footwear like flip-flops and extended periods of standing," reveals Ash. "Additionally, they can be caused by weight gain, prolonged exposure to hot showers and use of harsh soaps."

However, some people simply have a higher risk of cracked heels. "This can include those with endocrinological disorders - like diabetes - or naturally dry, dehydrated skin," points out Ash. "Genetic predispositions like hyperkeratosis - where there is excessive callus build-up - and medical conditions such as diabetes can all contribute," she adds.

According to the NHS, some people may also experience cracked heels due to dry skin - known as anhydrosis - which is linked to ageing, having an existing condition like psoriasis or taking medication. It often appears alongside other symptoms, such as roughness, itching and tightening of the skin.

"[Cracked heels] can be uncomfortable and also sometimes painful," warns Dr McCardle. "They are also open to infection [when cracked], which is why treatment is recommended."

Treatment for cracked heels

The best treatment options for cracked heels will depend on what has caused the condition. Dr Gordon explains that more serious cases of cracked heels, or those caused by an underlying medical condition, will need to be seen and treated by a specialist.

"[Treatment] will depend on the underlying cause, with any chronic disease or skin condition needing to be treated by a medical specialist," notes Dr Gordon. "If the cause of the cracked skin is not due to a specific medical condition, then treatments can absolutely be performed at home."

There are certain products for cracked heels that you can buy over the counter. "The best approach is a combination of filing the area using a pumice stone and then applying a special cracked heel treatment," recommends Dr McCardle. 

Regular body moisturiser is unlikely to be effective enough. "Heel balms can reduce the thickened skin and maintain its hydration," explains Dr Gordon. "These tend to be specialist products and contain specific ingredients such as urea, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids and saccharide isomerate."

There are certain words to look out for on labels. "For mild cases, a highly effective emollient containing 10% urea content is recommended, while in more severe instances, the urea content may need to be increased to as high as 50%," explains Ash.

However, it’s important to speak to a pharmacist, doctor or podiatrist for guidance before using over-the-counter heel treatments. "They can address your unique foot concerns," says Ash. "For example, those with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, are not advised to use emollients with high urea content."

Home remedies for cracked heels

If you don’t have any products immediately to hand in your bathroom, then there are some other at-home methods you can try to soothe your feet. "Soaking your feet in warm water and lemon juice is a helpful method for softening the skin," advises Ash. The NHS also recommends that you can soak your feet in a foot bath using baby oil.

After this, Dr Gordon suggests: "Remove any loose skin once the feet are dry, apply the cream and then put on some thin cotton socks to stop the moisturiser rubbing off - particularly if you are about to get into bed to sleep." According to the NHS, products are best used ten minutes after soaking and should be rubbed in well, with any excess wiped off.

However, you don’t need to wait until cracked heels are an issue to make caring for your feet a part of your daily routine. "Preventing them occurring in the first place, particularly if the cause is just dry skin, is always the best method," insists Dr Gordon.

"If you see the skin starting to look dry, then a simple foot moisturising cream used regularly to maintain hydration would be beneficial," suggests Dr Gordon. Heels beginning to crack? "File the surrounding hard skin down and apply the moisturiser," he adds.

There are other steps you can take to avoid further irritation to cracked heels. "Refrain from exposing your feet to the sun, since sunburn can worsen the condition," points out Ash. "Also, resist the temptation to remove excess skin with a scalpel at home, as this can cause inflammation and discomfort." Calluses need to be carefully removed by an expert, such as a podiatrist.

Can you fix cracked heels permanently?

This really depends on what is causing your cracked heels - although there are numerous measures that can be taken to reduce your risk. 

"Wear well-fitting and supportive shoes with a supportive heel along with a pair of socks - which you could consider sizing up in," suggests Ash. The NHS also recommends wearing socks or closed shoes even in hot weather if you find your feet are susceptible to getting dry. Dr McCardle adds: "Insert insoles into your shoes, which can reduce some of the pressure at the heels."

"It can also be helpful to apply an emollient daily," adds Ash. The NHS recommends using one after your bath or shower, and being careful not to apply too much so that it fully absorbs, and also to avoid getting it between your toes.

As previously mentioned, certain lifestyle factors can also raise your risk. "Anyone can get cracked heels, but those on their feet a lot or who exercise regularly are more likely to put extra pressure on their heels," notes Dr McCardle. Given moving your body enough is vital for general health, it's key to follow expert advice and invest in good footwear and an effective foot care routine.

When to see a doctor about cracked heels

There are certain instances when at-home products and remedies can no longer help and you should seek medical attention about cracked heels. "If these don't clear things up after several months, then other prescription treatments may be beneficial," explains Dr Gordon. In this instance, speak to your GP or a podiatrist for advice.

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, check with your GP, or you can see a private podiatrist without the need for referral. 

"If your cracked heels become deep and painful, this may be a sign that the breaks in the skin have allowed bacteria to enter - causing an infection," warns Dr McCardle. If you notice signs of infection - which can also include redness, swelling, change in skin colour and - it's important to seek medical attention promptly.

This can usually be your GP or a podiatrist, however in rare cases you may need to visit hospital as an emergency. "Ignoring deep heel cracks or fissures can sometimes lead to complications like cellulitis, which does require urgent treatment such as a visit to A&E for antibiotics," advises Ash. If you have diabetes and any of these symptoms of infection, seek medical attention straight away.


The information on does not constitute medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. Although GoodtoKnow consults a range of medical experts to create and fact-check content, this information is for general purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional or seek urgent medical attention if needed.

Our experts

Dr David Gordon
Dr David Gordon

Dr David Gordon is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, specialising in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions, with his main interest being minimally invasive bunion surgery. His practice is based in London and Hertfordshire, and he has been practising orthopaedics since 1998.

Dr Jo McCardle
Dr Jo McCardle

Dr Jo McCardle is a podiatrist consultant, with 25 years of clinical experience in podiatry. She is also an internationally recognised expert in the high-risk limb, has published extensive research in the field and is an expert for Scholl.

Paola Ash
Paola Ash

Paola Ash is head podiatrist at The Chelsea Clinic in London, and is currently working with Clinisept+ Podiatry. She is also qualified in osteopathy and has a postgraduate certificate in musculoskeletal ultrasound diagnostics from the University of East London.

Lauren Clark
Freelance writer and editor

Lauren is a freelance writer and editor, with more than eight years of experience working in digital and print journalism. She has penned news and features for titles including Women's Health, Daily Telegraph, Cosmopolitan, The Times, Stylist, The Guardian, Woman & Home, Dazed, The Sun's Fabulous, Yahoo UK and Grazia. 

Lauren specialises in covering health and wellness topics—ranging from nutrition and fitness, to health conditions and mental wellbeing. She also runs a weekly newsletter called Well, Actually..., which has been named a Substack Featured Publication.