Can Cracked Heels Be Caused By a Vitamin Deficiency?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Vitamin deficiencies and cracked heels

You may have heard that your skin is a reflection of your inner health. And, if you aren’t getting enough of the essential vitamins you need, it may cause your skin to become dull, dry, and prematurely aged. In some cases, it may even cause your skin to flake or crack.

The following three essential vitamins play an important role in maintaining healthy-looking, well-nourished skin.

Vitamin E

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Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to protect your cells and help them live longer. It also helps you maintain healthy skin and a robust immune system.

Dietary vitamin E helps protect the collagen in your skin from biological processes linked to the aging of your skin, as well as the drying effect that aging has on skin. Drier skin could increase your risk of developing cracked heels.

Good dietary sources of vitamin E include:

  • oils such as wheat germ oil, hazelnut oil, sunflower oil, and almond oil
  • sunflower seeds
  • nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pine nuts
  • salmon
  • avocado
  • mango

Vitamin E deficiency is rare in people who don’t have gastrointestinal disorders that make it hard to digest or absorb fat properly, like Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis.

Vitamin B-3

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Vitamin B-3 also goes by the name niacin. This essential nutrient plays a critical role in energy metabolism. Without vitamin B-3, you wouldn’t be able to convert the energy in your food into energy for your body to use.

Vitamin B-3 is also an antioxidant. This means it fights free radicals in your body. These are unstable molecules that can cause harm in your body if their levels become too high.

When you don’t get enough vitamin B-3, you may be at a higher risk of developing a condition called pellagra. One of the symptoms of pellagra is dry and scaly skin that can develop on parts of your body, including your heels.

Other symptoms of pellagra can include the following:

  • confusion
  • diarrhea
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • weakness
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It’s worth noting that pellagra generally first affects the parts of your body exposed to sunlight. Unless your heels are often exposed to the sun, pellagra is more likely to develop on other parts of your body before you notice it on your heels.

Foods that are good sources of vitamin B-3 include:

  • poultry such as chicken breast and turkey
  • ground beef and beef liver
  • seafood such as tuna, salmon, and anchovies
  • brown rice
  • avocado
  • lentils

Even though vitamin B-3 deficiency is rare, especially in developed countries, the following conditions increase your risk of developing a deficiency:

  • malnutrition
  • anorexia
  • HIV
  • alcohol use disorder
  • diseases that cause malabsorption

Vitamin C

Vitamin C also goes by the name L-ascorbic acid. It’s another vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, which helps prevent cellular damage.

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Vitamin C helps your body make collagen, a protein that makes up 75 percent of the dry weight of the dermis portion of your skin. Your body stores a large amount of vitamin C in your skin cells to protect them from environmental damage.

Research has shown that vitamin C levels tend to be lower in aged skin or skin that’s been damaged by the sun. Because vitamin C helps your skin retain moisture, not getting enough of it may lead to dehydration and dryness in your skin cells, including your heels.

Vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy. Scurvy causes a variety of symptoms that affect your skin, including:

  • easy bruising
  • dry, scaly skin
  • slow wound healing
  • dry, cracking hair
  • bleeding in the skin or around hair follicles

Vitamin C deficiency is fairly rare in developed countries. To develop a vitamin C deficiency, you would have to consume less than 10 milligrams per day of vitamin C for at least multiple weeks to months.

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Good dietary sources of vitamin C include:

  • red and green peppers
  • guavas
  • kiwifruit
  • broccoli
  • strawberries
  • oranges
  • Brussels sprouts
  • kale

Other causes of cracked heels

Vitamin deficiencies aren’t the only cause of cracked heels. Other factors and conditions can also lead to dry, cracked skin on your feet. The following are some potential causes.

Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy, flaky skin. It can affect people of all ages. If it develops on the soles of your feet, it often causes blisters and itchiness. Your doctor can prescribe a cream or lotion to help treat eczema.

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection. It can develop more easily if your feet are damp or sweaty for a long period of time. You can also pick it up from walking barefoot in areas where the fungus tends to thrive, like on damp locker room floors or showers.

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Athlete’s foot can cause dry, red, and itchy skin that can become cracked or blistered if it’s more severe.

Walking barefoot

Walking around barefoot can expose the skin on your feet to all sorts of environmental dangers, including bacteria, toxins, allergens, as well as insects that could bite or sting your feet.

Wearing shoes, sandals, or flip-flops can protect the bottom of your feet from environmental harm.

Aging

The natural aging process might be a contributing factor to your cracked heels. As you age, your skin loses moisture more easily and becomes more susceptible to drying out.

Home remedies for cracked heels

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If the cracked skin on your heels isn’t too severe, you can try the following home remedies to soothe your feet:

  • Use a heel balm that’s specially formulated to moisturize, soften, and exfoliate dry, dead skin.
  • Soak your feet in lukewarm water for 20 minutes, then use a pumice stone, foot scrubber, or loofah to remove dry skin.
  • Apply liquid bandage to help seal cracks and prevent infection. This product comes as a spray, so there’s less risk of it coming off during the day.
  • Research has shown that honey can help heal and cleanse wounds and moisturize skin. You may want to use honey as a foot scrub after soaking your feet or as an overnight foot mask.

When to see a doctor

Most of the time, dry or cracked heels aren’t a serious issue. You may find the condition improves with home remedies, like those described above. The condition of your skin may also improve by increasing your intake of key vitamins.

If, however, your cracked heels don’t get better with self-care measures, or if they’re painful or bleeding, it’s best to pay a visit to your doctor.

You may also want to see your doctor if you have cracked heels and a medical condition like diabetes mellitus or peripheral neuropathy.

The bottom line

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Cracked heels are a common condition that usually aren’t a cause for concern. Vitamin C, vitamin B-3, and vitamin E deficiencies may contribute to dry, cracked heels. However, these vitamin deficiencies are rare in developed countries.

Other conditions like athlete’s foot or eczema may also lead to cracked heels. Walking around barefoot and the natural aging process can be factors, too.

If your cracked heels don’t get better with self-care, be sure to follow up with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and the right treatment.

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