With the dog days of summer behind us, so are well-manicured feet. While we (hopefully) take better care of our peds when they’re on display in the flip flops, strappy wedges, and mandals of July, when we enter into the sneakers, slippers, and Uggs phase of the year, things decline. As fall descends, it’s easy to cover the barking dogs with socks and forget about them until springtime. Alas, that would be an error, lest we wish to wake up one cold day, our sheets ripped to shreds from the hacksaw edges of skin that have taken up residence on our heels.
To those cracks, also known as “fissures,” attention must be paid. Not only is it a terrible look, the overly dry skin can itch, bleed, make walking painful, and even lead to infections. Here’s how to keep them from becoming desiccated gullies in which one could plant an entire crop of spring kale.
Get into a pre-bedtime routine (aka exfoliate)
When you’re a 20-something college student, you pre-game; when you’re a mid-lifer with heel fissures, you “pre-bedtime.” In order to heal your heels, you must first clear away the dead skin. Before hitting the hay, soak your feet in plain or slightly soapy water. Pat dry and exfoliate with a loofah, foot file (yes, the mini-cheese grater), or pumice stone. Do this a few times a week but not every night, as too much exfoliation can make your skin overly dry and susceptible to calluses.
More adventurous DIYers can try this white wine vinegar and Listerine soak. (Their acidity and antiseptic properties, respectively, help lift dead skin and cleanse what’s underneath.) And there are more natural home remedies here.
File your heels in one direction
If you ever thought too much vigorous exfoliating motion could be bad for your heels, you’re not wrong. Podiatrist Dr. Jacqueline Sutera told Well + Good that too much back and forth motion can make cracks worse. Sutera suggests using a battery-operated foot file like Amope that files your feet in one direction, preventing the scrubbing from going too deep, “down to dermal layers of skin which can cause infection, pain, increased cracking and scarring.”
Take warm (not hot) showers
What’s better than warming up in a hot shower or bath on a drab, bone-chilling day? (Not much, but heels that don’t hurt to walk on is probably worth foregoing this pleasure.) Hot water strips the body of natural oils and moisture. Disappointing as it may be, lukewarm water is best for your whole body, not just the heels.
Moisturize directly after bathing
The best time to lock in moisture and heal your skin is while it is still damp (not soaking). Hydrated skin absorbs product more readily and the moisturizer provides a barrier to help the water stay inside the skin. But in this case, once isn’t enough. Troubled heels should be moisturized two to three times a day, and protected with thin, cotton socks.
Use a “winter moisturizer”
While hot, humid months call for a lighter moisturizer, the chill, dryer air and central heat of fall and winter call for a heavier, more hydrating cream. They’re greasier, though, so use a smaller amount and rub in thoroughly. Look for ingredients like mineral oil, jojoba oil, lanolin, beeswax, paraffin, petrolatum, coconut oil, shea butter, or glycerine. (They’re emollients that soften skin, replace oils, and seal in moisture. Popular brands include Kerasal, Eucerin, Cetaphil, and Aquaphor.) If you don’t like the idea of excess greasiness transferring to your floors or bed, wear flip flops or socks around the house until it’s fully absorbed.
WebMD suggests “marinating cracked heels in petroleum jelly,” covering them in plastic wrap and sleeping in a pair of socks until you achieve desired results.
Use a foot mask or heel sleeve
If you’re okay with some major skin peeling, (and some potential residual itchiness) some swear by this foot mask’s ability to peel away your foot’s outer layer revealing the soft baby skin underneath. (Caveat: If you’ve got sensitive skin, read the reviews first.) For a less dramatic option, consider using a moisturizing heel sleeve to get the job done.
Set yourself up with a fall pedicure
All of this can be done yourself, of course. But you many want to consider hitting the reset button with a proper salon pedicure, and splurging for an extra treatment such as callus removal, exfoliating sugar scrub, or moisturizing mask to start the chilly months strong and give you more motivation to keep them healthy all winter long.