There’s nothing like going to put your socks and stockings on and feeling the dry skin around your heels or feet catch on your socks to remind you that summer is well and truly here – and your feet are back to being far too dry.
While for some, this means just a small discomfort and dissatisfaction with the appearance of their feet, for others, it’s a serious health problem – with serious risks. Here’s why dry skin and cracked heels affect us most in the summer and what you can start doing today to help your feet.
Think about the main footwear you wear during these hot summer months. Does it look like sandals and thongs? With bare feet at the beach and in our backyard? Yep, us too. This means that enclosed shoes no longer protect our feet from the elements, and our feet are less supported by good footwear, so the risk of dryness and cracked heels skyrockets. The summer heat also makes us more vulnerable to dehydration and not getting in our eight glasses a day, which can also contribute to dry skin.
(Don’t get us wrong – sweaty feet in thick socks and winter boots carry their own downsides too – like increasing our risk of Athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections. But we’ll save that one for next winter!)
Your heels are designed to absorb shock. They are the first part of the foot that comes in contact with the ground, and so take on a large amount of weight and pressure during every step, as you move forwards and the rest of your foot slowly comes into contact with the ground. Our feet need to be able to absorb forces effectively, adapt to the ground beneath them, and take on large amounts of pressure and friction without breaking down.
When the feet are exposed to excess pressure and friction for prolonged periods, a biological response is triggered in your body that basically says “the feet are under much more pressure than normal. We (your body) don’t want the skin to break down or tear as a result, so we need to increase the protection at the bottom of the feet”. The result is that your skin thickens and builds callus in the high-pressure areas.
Callus is essentially dead skin – it has no nerves, blood supply or other vessels. This callus forms an extra protective layer, its thickness depending on how much pressure that part of the foot has been under. Sometimes, it may feel like a small painful pebble, particularly if it’s in an area at the ball of your foot or your toes. When it comes to the heels, it’s usually all over the heels, with extra thickness on the outer rim of the heel where the heel first strikes against the ground as you walk.
As the callus builds, and the skin dries, it becomes hard and firm – no longer supple and moist. As the pressure continues, the thick and hard callus cracks. This is known as cracked heels.
Aside from the discomfort, pain and greater difficulty fitting footwear that having a significantly increased heel thickness can have, when the outer callused skin cracks, there is a significant risk that it will also crack the healthy, living tissue beneath the cracks. If you’re getting any bleeding in your cracks, this is already happening.
Whenever you have an open wound as a result of your cracked heels, you’re vulnerable to infection – something your body was working hard to try to prevent in the first place. The cracks are often very difficult to get between and clean properly – and if you’re often walking around in sandals or bare feet, then it’s highly likely that dirt and bacteria will get trapped in the cracks, too.
Cracks also tend to have jagged edges that catch on socks, so if you quickly pull your socks off or on, you may pull at the cracks and create further rips and tears in the skin.
When your circulation or your sensation isn’t what it used to be, cracked heels are even more dangerous. This is as your body doesn’t heal wounds or fight infection as effectively as it used to, opening you up to a series of potential complications. When your sensation – that is, your ability to feel – is also impaired, then you may have a bleeding or infected crack in your heel and you don’t even know.
If you’ve developed cracked heels, particularly if there are any signs of bleeding or infection, we can help you feel significantly better in one appointment by reducing down your cracks and your callused skin to a much more manageable level – and one where any moisturisers or urea creams can be maximally effective.
This is done is one appointment using a combination of a surgical scalpel to debride the skin, and sanding the skin to smooth it. Don’t worry – as we are working on dead skin, the process is completely painless and safe.
After this procedure, you can keep your dry skin and cracks under much better control by:
– Moisturising your feet at least daily, preferably twice per day, morning and night. Your cream will absorb best right after a hot shower, so make sure to keep your heel cream on your vanity so you remember
– Make sure your heel balm contains urea, as it is proven to help you get better results faster
– Wear socks at night to lock in the moisture from your cream that you apply before bed
– Wear good, supportive sandals throughout the summer as much as possible. Orthotics sandals and those with in-built heel and arch support are recommended
– Stay hydrated – to keep your skin supple and lock in moisture
– Treat the cause, not just the symptoms. Remember – if it’s the pressure on your heels that is the primary cause of your symptoms, then your callus and cracked heels are likely to keep coming back if this is not addressed. See your podiatrist to ensure that you’re also treating the cause and not just the symptoms
Do not attempt to remove callus build-ups at home. We’ve seen countless people that have attempted this and caused further damage to their feet and heels – to the point that it becomes painful for them to walk or bear weight due to the wound that has been created. Leave it to us – we do this multiple times every day!