Cracked feet can be unsightly, painful, and hard to get rid of! While there are many causes of this frustrating condition, winter weather is one of the most common culprits of dry skin that peels, tears, and cracks. Knowing exactly what the cause is for your cracked heels is the first step to healing them.

Here are the 10 most common causes of dry, cracked feet and heels.

1. Lack of Moisture

Winter weather is the number one cause for seasonal dry skin. The heels are especially prone to chapped skin, because they are home to most of the sweat glands in your feet. Protect them from vital moisture loss by wearing aloe vera-infused socks, or by massaging oils into feet before you put on evening slippers. Some of the best natural skin hydrators include shea butter, cocoa butter, and jojoba oil.

2. Eczema, Psoriasis, Diabetes and Other Dry Skin Conditions

Skin conditions such as these can cause skin to dry out, flake, peel, and even crack down deep into the layers beneath the epidermis, drawing blood. In certain areas of the body, you might not notice these symptoms right away. Heels, however, are particularly susceptible to added complications of these conditions, as they get a lot of “foot traffic” (so to speak).

3. Kidney Problems

These bean-shaped organs are responsible for filtering waste products and other toxins from the body. Over time, they can become problematic for reasons including genetics, poor diet, and other lifestyle choices. If you suffer from a kidney disorder, a buildup of waste products in your blood can cause dry skin, itching, and flaking. Windy, cold winter weather only worsens this condition, and may cause heels to crack.

4. Thyroid Dysfunction

The most common thyroid problem associated with dry skin and cracked heels is hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). The thyroid produces important hormones responsible for everything from hunger to sleep, and even healthy hair and skin. If you notice any of these symptoms, check with your doctor about a thyroid test: unwanted weight gain, mood swings, irregularity, muscle aches and pains, joint pain, fatigue, and painful PMS.

5. Nutrient Deficiency

Dry skin is normal, especially during winter months. However, if you notice that your skin is so dry that it’s prone to flaking and cracking, it may be a sign of a nutrient deficiency. Ultra-dry skin can be caused by a lack of enough water and a deficiency in essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, or potassium.

6. Aging

Over time, the body slows down production of many different important hormones needed to maintain skin elasticity and strength. For this reason, older people may notice especially dry skin, and even thicker skin on the feet than they had when they were younger. This is normal with age, but it can increase the risk of developing cracked heels.

7. Unwanted Weight Gain

Wintertime gives you a great excuse to eat a little more than usual – and that’s ok! However, if you suffer from excessive weight gain or obesity, it could be adding pressure to your heels, which causes the cracking of already extra-dry feet. An easy remedy for this is custom orthopedic inserts to keep feet centered and in balance.

8. The Wrong Footwear

Many times, cracked heels are the result of walking in the wrong type of footwear, or wearing a pair of shoes that are too small or improperly fitted. Sandals and other exposing shoes can also cause parts of the foot to slip off balance, further increasing the risk of cracked heels.

9. Genetics

There are many causes of cracked skin on your feet and heels. If you feel like no matter how hard you try you just can’t keep your heels soft, it could be genetic. Families pass this dry skin condition down to their children, and as luck would have it, many people get it from their parents. Check your family medical history if you suspect your dry heels are genetic.

10. Poor Hygiene

The skin is the largest organ of the body, and it is charged with removing toxins via the pores. It’s a tough job! Help your skin, and reduce the likelihood of cracked heels by keeping skin clean, dry and moisturized.

How Do I Get Rid of Dry, Cracked Heels?

There are many different ways to approach the type of dry skin that can lead to deep cracks. Follow this simple five-step process, and heal your cracked heels at home:

1. Remove the toughest parts of calloused dry heels with scissors or nail clippers.
2. Use a pumice stone or metal nail file to further eliminate calluses, and smooth the skin.
3. Once the deep cracks are reduced, you can begin to apply healing slaves. Bandage the area to prevent infection.
4. Once the area has begun to heal, apply a healing ointment.
5. It is recommended that you additionally purchase a set of custom insoles (orthotics) to reduce pressure on the heel.

Persistent cracking of the heels isn’t just a temporary nuisance. It can be a painful condition troublesome to treat. Try this simple five-step process, and if your symptoms persist, check with your doctor to see if there is a prescription or other treatment option for you.