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Dry Cracked Feet

Reviewed by
Dr. James Milidantri

The skin on our feet is naturally dry, unlike the skin on the rest of the body. The skin on our feet has no oil glands, so it relies on hundreds of thousands of sweat glands to keep our feet moisturized. This can be problematic for people who do not properly moisturize their feet on a regular basis, or who have a medical condition—such as diabetes or athlete’s foot—that causes dry feet. Anyone can have dry feet, but the condition is more common among seniors and diabetics.

Dry feet can range in severity from mild, temporary dry skin to severe dry skin that causes additional problems. Skin can become dry for a number of reasons, but there are ways to prevent it, such as keeping your feet moisturized and avoiding rubbing or scratching the skin. To learn more preventive measures, please scroll down.

Dry Feet Symptoms

Dry feet are generally a symptom of another problem, and if you have dry feet you may experience additional symptoms such as:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Cracks in the feet (fissures)
  • Rough skin
  • Flaky skin
  • Peeling skin
  • Rash (usually brought on by itching)
  • Problem worsens in winter months

What Causes Dry Feet?

Dry feet are caused by a lack of moisture in the skin. There are several common factors that can lead to dry feet, including:

  • Excessively hot showers or baths
  • A skin condition that dries the skin (eczema, psoriasis, etc.)
  • Soaps that are non-moisturizing
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease
  • Cold weather
  • Low humidity levels in home, office, etc. (heating systems are known to dry the air)
  • Aging (we naturally lose moisture in our skin as we age)
  • Long periods spent in the sun

Which Doctor Should I See?

Many people believe they should see a dermatologist for their dry feet, but podiatrists are better qualified to address this problem. Dermatologists are skin doctors and podiatrists are foot doctors, but podiatrists are trained in dermatology to help patients with skin conditions (dry skin, athlete’s foot, warts on feet, etc.) on their feet. On the other hand, if you already see a dermatologist or feel more comfortable seeking advice from one, then you should do what makes you feel best.

Diagnosing Dry Feet

A doctor can diagnose dry feet with a physical exam and by asking about your symptoms. Your doctor may also want to test you for skin conditions and disorders. Blood and skin tests (biopsies) are used to rule out conditions such as dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema. Your doctor will also inquire about your medical and family history. For example, psoriasis is known to be genetic, especially among Caucasian families.

Dry Feet Complications

People who suffer from mild to moderate dry feet should be aware of the complications that can arise if the problem is left untreated. Symptoms are generally mild at first, and may not arouse concern. These symptoms can develop into severe problems, however, and it can become difficult to manage your symptoms and your dry feet over time. For example, dry skin located around your heel can become so severe it causes deep cracks. Dry, cracked feet can be painful. Additional complications may include:

  • Skin conditions such as psoriasis or dermatitis
  • Difficulty walking
  • The need to limit time spent on your feet, which may necessitate a job change
  • Daily itchiness and burning
  • Expensive treatment if over-the-counter medications are no longer sufficient

Dry Feet Treatment

Treating dry feet usually begins with treating the underlying cause. Some people naturally have dry skin and must constantly take extra steps to ensure that their feet are moisturized at all times. The most common solution for dry feet is a therapeutic oil, ointment, or cream. Most lotions are not recommended for dry feet because they contain alcohol, which can dry the skin further. Baby lotion is usually acceptable since it does not contain chemicals that irritate the skin. Additional treatments may include:

  • Applying lotion to feet after bathing
  • Using mild moisturizing soaps for skin
  • Staying hydrated

Talk with your doctor about home remedies. Spearmint, eucalyptus oil, and pumice stones can be used, but only under the guidance of your physician. Treatment for your dry feet may be as simple as treating an underlying medical condition such as thyroid disease. If you are diabetic, you may be more prone to foot problems. Controlling your diabetes can prevent dry skin on your feet.

Common Home Remedies for Dry Feet

Here are some common home remedies to help you with your condition. Consult with your doctor about any home remedy before trying it:

  • Soak your feet in lemon juice for approximately ten minutes. Lemon juice is a mild acid that helps to dissolve dead and dry skin for easy removal. Use a loofah or soft foot brush to scrub your feet after you’re done soaking them. You may want to wait until any cuts or trauma have healed before trying this.
  • Combine a spoonful of olive oil and a few drops of lemon or lavender oil to create a moisturizing cracked-heel cream. Shake the ingredients until they form a thick, milky solution and use when needed. Shake before each use.
  • Apply vegetable oil to your feet after bathing, especially in the area of the cracks. After application, wear thick socks. Try doing this at night before bed and wearing your socks to bed. You should see results within a few days.
  • Combine one teaspoon of Vaseline and juice from one whole lemon. Wash your feet and pat them dry before applying. Apply to the dry areas and heels of your feet until you’ve used the entire batch. You should do this just before bed and wear wool socks to lock in the moisture. The wool will also prevent your sheets from becoming stained. The oils in the mixture will soften the dry areas. Exfoliate in the morning. Do this as recommended by your doctor.

Preventing Dry Feet

Many of the treatment methods mentioned above can also be used to prevent dry skin on your feet. Here are some tips to help you avoid this condition:

  • Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter lotions, creams, and moisturizers to help you manage the dryness.
  • Do not rub or scratch the affected area. Instead, try applying cold compresses or ice packs to the itchy area for a few minutes at a time.
  • Do not wash too often. Avoid bubble baths, fragrant soaps, and other products that may dry your skin. Pat your skin dry when you are finished instead of rubbing the towel over your body. Use lukewarm water instead of hot water. The heat from the water can contribute to your dry feet.
  • Avoid saunas and steam baths if possible.
  • Moisturize after each shower or every time your feet come into contact with water.
  • Wear shoes that allow your feet to breathe. Avoid excessive sweating.
  • Avoid blasting the heater in your home, or use a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air. Heating units are notorious for drying out the air in a home or office.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause the itchy feeling to worsen.

Talking to Your Doctor

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about dry feet:

  • Which over-the-counter products would benefit me most?
  • Are there any home remedies that may be more cost effective and just as beneficial? If so, which ones?
  • I use __________________ laundry detergent, should I continue using this product?
  • Are there any products your practice offers to help eliminate or manage dry feet?
  • What temperature should I set my home at to keep a good amount of moisture in the air for each season?
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Medical References:

  1. M. Beers "Merck Manual of Medical Information" 2nd home edition (Pocket Books, 2003) 404
  2. H. Winter Griffith, MD "Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery" (The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006) 252
  3. Dr. Foot, Dry Cracked Skin/Dry Cracked Heels http://www.drfoot.co.uk/cracked.htm

This page was last updated on April 18th, 2014



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