Your skin is the only body organ you can see.
Dermatological issues like dry, cracked feet can hint at another health condition like a vitamin deficiency.
Are your cracked and callused feet a reason to worry? Read on to find out.
Vitamin Deficiencies That Can Cause Cracked Heels
Vitamins are essential micronutrients needed for every chemical process in your body.
Producing healthy skin tissue involves multiple biochemical reactions that could go wrong if you’re deficient in a particular vitamin.
Vitamin deficiencies can also damage nerves, disturbing their control over oil production and drying out your feet.
But there’s more.
Nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy can reduce your sensitivity to pain and heat damage.
You might not feel that your feet are uncomfortable, but the pressure would cause skin hardening, calluses, and cracked heels.1Nancy Hammond, MD, Yunxia Wang, MD, Mazen Dimachkie, MD, and Richard Barohn, MD. Nutritional Neuropathies, Neurol Clin. 2014
Peripheral neuropathy can develop with several deficiencies.
If you always get cracked heels, consider these possible culprits:
Vitamin B1 and Cracked Heels
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency is rare in the developed world, but it could appear with chronic alcohol abuse, frequent vomiting, or some infections.
The first symptoms are usually loss of sensation in your limbs, “pins and needles” prickling, or a feeling of burn.
The neuropathy might progress into muscle weakness that travels up from your feet.
The nerve damage could also lead to skin changes on your feet, such as deep, hard-to-heal cracks and wounds.
These, however, are rarely the first or the only sign of a deficiency.
Vitamin B3 and Cracked Heels
Vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency is known as pellagra, and it usually appears in people at risk of malnutrition like eating disorder patients.
It presents with a classic triad:
- Dermatitis or skin inflammation is an itchy red rash, especially around the collar (Casal collar)
- Dementia is the progressive loss of cognitive abilities (e.g., memory problems)
- Diarrhea and mouth sores
In pellagra, lesions appear in sun-exposed or high-friction areas.
Over time, the skin can harden, start peeling, or change color.
The changes are characteristic around the collar and on the hands, but they could also affect the feet and heels.
Vitamin B6 and Cracked Heels
Vitamin B6 deficiency can appear with certain medications, alcoholism, or higher dietary requirements (e.g., in pregnant women), and it usually causes nerve damage starting with the feet.
The first symptoms include burning, itching, or tickling, as well as a loss of sensation.
The change in sensitivity could mean you’re not noticing the pressure of uncomfortable shoes or improper posture.
The increased mechanical stress on the feet, in turn, could cause persistent cracks or hard-to-heal wounds.
Vitamin B12 and Cracked Heels
B12 is essential for red blood cell formation and nervous system health.
Though most people get enough of this nutrient, a strict vegan diet, advanced age, and certain medications can make you deficient.
Signs and symptoms of a B12 deficiency include:
- Weakness and pale skin due to the anemia
- Prickling sensation (paresthesia) on your hands and feet because of peripheral neuropathy
- Blurred vision due to damage to the optic nerve
- Swollen and inflamed tongue
- Mood changes like depression
In B12 deficiency, both the blood and nerve supply to your feet is disturbed.
This process could lead to dry, irritated, easy-to-injure skin.
Vitamin E and Cracked Heels
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the collagen in your feet from free radicals.
A deficiency could lead to skin changes through collagen damage.
What’s more, vitamin E deficiency is associated with peripheral neuropathy, which could also lead to foot complications.
What Else Could Cause Cracked Heels?
Vitamin deficiencies aren’t the only possible culprit. Here are other health issues that could cause skin thickening and cracks:
Blood Sugar and Cracked Heels
People with diabetes can develop peripheral neuropathy because high blood sugar damages the nerves.
Much like with vitamin deficiencies, the neuropathy could dry out foot skin and cause it to crack.2Thanh Dinh, Francesco Tecilazich, Antonios Kafanas, John Doupis, Charalambos Gnardellis, Ermelindo Leal, Ana Tellechea, Leena Pradhan, Thomas E Lyons, John M Giurini, Aristidis Veves. Mechanisms Involved in the Development and Healing of Diabetic Foot Ulceration, Diabetes. 2012
Gut Microbiome & Dry Skin
Changes in gut and skin bacteria can cause a wide array of problems.
Skin conditions like psoriasis relate to changes in the microbiome, and we’re only beginning to understand how. 3So-Yeon Lee, Eun Lee, Yoon Mee Park, and Soo-Jong Hong. Microbiome in the Gut-Skin Axis in Atopic Dermatitis, Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2018
If you’re constantly suffering from dry skin or deep and painful heel cracks and nothing seems to be checking out (you’re not vitamin deficient, your blood sugar is fine, etc.,) this is another possibility to explore.
Taking a probiotic supplement could be the solution to hard-to-treat skin issues like foot cracks.4Samantha R. Ellis, Mimi Nguyen, Alexandra R. Vaughn, Manisha Notay, Waqas A. Burney, Simran Sandhu, and Raja K. Sivamani. The Skin and Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Common Dermatologic Conditions, Microorganisms. 2019
High Arching Feet (Pes Cavus)
The foot arch bears your body weight and acts as a spring, helping you walk and run.
For some people, this arch is higher than average, a condition commonly known as pes cavus.
This condition changes their foot alignment and creates pressure points that lead to skin thickening and cracks.5Carlos Maynou, Christophe Szymanski, and Alexis Thiounn. The adult cavus foot, Journal or EFORT Open Rev. 2017
Insoles and properly fitted shoes can help you prevent cracks and calluses and improve your overall foot comfort.
Foods & Supplements to Help Dry, Cracked Heels
A balanced diet, rich in fruits and veggies (but not lacking animal protein) is the best way to achieve healthy skin from the inside out.
If you’re plant-based, don’t forget to take a B12 vitamin or a B-complex supplement.
B-Vitamins do more than improve the looks of your skin – they are essential for your overall health, and skipping it could lead to severe consequences (like nerve damage.)
A probiotic supplement or fermented foods could help you balance your gut microbiome and improve skin health.
If you have diabetes, make sure to follow your doctor’s nutrition advice and frequently monitor your blood sugar to prevent nerve damage and other complications.
Best Tools for Baby-Smooth Skin
For most people, cracked heels are a cosmetic problem rather than a medical issue.
While they aren’t pretty, you can quickly get rid of them with home treatments.
We recommend using gentle tools like the Own Harmony electric callus remover.
It comes with protection systems against over-exfoliating and opening up micro-injuries (that lead to infections.)
Alternatively, you could use a pumice stone which takes longer or opt for a foot peel mask.
What is your favorite way of getting rid of cracked heels? Let us know in the comments below!