Dry skin around the heels may seem like a common and minor problem until it goes unaddressed. Dry heels can often lead to thickened calluses which can be painful while walking or even when in shoes. These calluses often develop from wearing open back shoes, sandals or walking barefoot in the summer. Living in dry climates can also lead to dry heels as moisture is not retained in the skin as well as it should be. Some medical conditions such as poor circulation, cancer, thyroid disorders and diabetes can also lead to dry, cracked heels.
Extremely dry heels can lead to deep cracks in the skin which are referred to as "fissures". Any opening or breach in the skin serves as a portal for bacterial infections and the feet are no different. Once bacteria enter the heel fissures, skin infection or cellulitis can occur around the foot or ankle region. This becomes a grave concern in diabetic and other immunocompromised patients who cannot fight off minor infections unlike otherwise healthy individuals.
So what should you do if you notice dry, cracked heels? The first step is always to moisturize your skin. Patients are usually instructed to moisturize the heels after a shower as your skin is most supple. Instead of using a lotion, use a cream or a petroleum jelly to have a more protective barrier. Lotions have a higher concentration of water than creams and do not retain moisture as well. Exfoliation is always a good idea if the calluses are just starting to develop and not bleeding.
The key is to start treating dry skin early and not letting it become severe enough to developing into fissures or deep cracks. Podiatrists can shave or debride the thickened skin to get rid of all the dead skin and then recommend proper emollients or moisturizers to avoid such problems in the future. Sometimes we will recommend proper shoe gear or orthotics to prevent friction in addition to shaving the skin which will help future recurrences. If you think you have dry heels, do not hesitate to come in! The podiatrists here at Advanced Podiatry will help you get back on your toes-or heels!