When it comes to beauty and physical appearance, there is nothing more prized than clear, flawless skin. If that beauty is marred by a spot or a pimple, it can cause you to lose your confidence. Another skin problem that people often face is that of cracked skin. We’ve all seen those ads on TV where they advertise the creams and lotions for cracked heels. But cracked skin can also occur on the elbows, toes, knees and fingers. Cracked skin can affect anyone at any time regardless of age, sex or ethnicity if precautions are not taken to keep cracked skin at bay. So let’s take a closer look at this troubling skin condition so that you can take preventive measures.
What is Cracked Skin?
The skin is an organ that acts as a protective sheath for the body. It protects your organs from chemicals, pollution and bacteria. But the skin is a very delicate organ that requires an internal and external balance to do its job. Something as simple as dry air can wobble the balance and interrupt its functioning. And it is in fact mainly dryness that causes microscopic cracks to occur on the surface of the skin, leading to cracked skin if the problem is not dealt with in the initial stages of development.
When the skin gets dry, it gets rough and develops tiny tears. These tears can lead to deeper cracks which we refer to as cracked skin. Cracked skin is like a laceration on the skin but there is a difference.
A laceration is a wound that literally cuts into the upper layers of skin right through to the deeper layers underneath. But when cracked skin occurs, there are skin fissures that also extend well into the dermis but there is no wound or bleeding except in extreme cases. It is because that deeper layer of skin is exposed that pain often accompanies cracked skin.
Causes of Cracked Skin
- Skin dryness is the most common cause of cracked skin. Extreme cold causes severe dryness which is why cracked skin is more common in cold regions than in warmer ones.
- Exposure to any substance that irritates the skin can cause the skin to get dry which can lead to cracked skin.
- Although it is not known why, diabetics in particular are more prone to severely cracked skin than other folks. The theory is that the high blood sugar allows the bacteria in cracked skin to thrive.
- There is a genetic disorder called ichthyosis which results in extreme cracked skin all over the body.
- Handling paper money all the time can also cause cracked skin as there are a lot of bacteria on money from passing through so many hands.
- Even handling new plastic bags everyday (as would be the case of a cashier at a busy supermarket) can cause cracked skin since new bags are coated with chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction.
- Those who work with chemicals on a daily basis such as hair dressers and janitors are at higher risk of developing cracked skin due to their exposure to harmful substances for most of the day.
- Being on your feet for several hours a day puts a lot of pressure on them, especially if there is insufficient padding. The skin on the heel gets compressed and bulges outward. If the skin is not moist enough or supple enough to take that pressure, cracked skin will result.
- Even obesity puts a lot of pressure on your feet and can lead to cracked skin for the same reason as the previous point.
- Products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate can dry out skin severely and lead to cracked skin. By the way, this damaging chemical is in practically every cleaning product in your home and also in every personal hygiene product that you use from your soaps to your shampoos. Over 50% of people exposed to sodium lauryl sulfate develop skin conditions from this harmful ingredient, cracked skin being one of them.
- As we age, our skin gets more prone to cracked skin as it loses its ability to create new skin cells. Older skin also has lower levels of moisture so you are more likely to develop cracked skin as you age.
- Cracked skin can indicate an underlying skin condition such as eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis.
- Hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid) and Sjogren’s syndrome can also cause cracked skin. Since the body’s metabolic rate drops dramatically with the thyroid imbalance, there is less sweating. This actually leads to dry skin. Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that also leads to less sweating because it affects the sweat glands.
- Do you wear a lot of open-backed footwear like slingbacks or sandals? These shoes can look great but they can lead to heel expansion on either side of the back opening which in turn can cause cracked skin.
Symptoms of Cracked Skin
The symptoms of cracked skin will manifest on the elbows, toes, heels and fingers. If you experience the following symptoms, you may be suffering from cracked skin and should take steps to remedy it before it gets much worse.
- Your cracked skin will manifest with extreme skin dryness.
- Peeling skin is one of the earlier symptoms of cracked skin. As the skin dries up, layers of it start to peel away and this eventually leads to cracked skin. Skin can appear scaly when this happens.
- Cracked skin often gets blistered.
- A common side-effect of dryness and thus cracked skin is itchiness.
- In extreme cases of cracked skin, bleeding may occur.
- Flaky skin is another symptom of cracked skin.
Remedies & Treatment for Cracked Skin
You will find over-the-counter solutions like topical steroid creams that can help to heal cracked skin. Antibiotics may be needed to fight off the bacteria that may be causing cracked skin. While it is fine to go ahead and use these, you should also aim to pro-actively change a few other things in your life so as to aid healing. Research has shown that people who get involved in their health and medical care and make getting better a priority actually report faster healing time and a more effective cure.
To prevent and cure cracked skin, you have to stop doing the things that cause dryness in the first place. Fortunately, this is not very hard to do so you can easily treat cracked skin if you take some simple steps every day. Be warned though that cracked skin will not heal overnight. It can be more than two weeks before the symptoms of cracked skin start to disappear.
- Do not expose your hands to chemical-based products like bath soaps, dish soap and hand sanitizers. Most cleaning fluids and products that you use on a daily basis contain very harsh substances which dry out and damage your skin. Steer clear of them if you want to heal your cracked skin. When you are washing the dishes or the bathroom, wear gloves.
- Avoid using hygiene products with sodium lauryl sulfate.
- If you live in an extremely cold climate, wear gloves and socks as much as possible so that exposure to the severe temperature is limited.
- Wear sun screen every single day throughout the year, even if you are going to be indoors.
- Use normal temperature or lukewarm water to wash your hands. Too cold or too hot water can both strip your skin of moisture and contribute to exacerbating cracked skin.
- While you’re at it, reduce the amount of time you spend taking a bath to reduce the exposure of cracked skin to water. Try cutting it down to less than 20 minutes. And remember that even your bath water should not be hot.
- Immediately after your bath, apply a hand cream that is made from natural ingredients and which is scent-free.
- If you live in a dry climate, get a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in your home. This will even help you prevent cracked skin in the long run.
- Soak your hands or feet in warm water for relief from cracked skin. Then dry it thoroughly, following up with a hand lotion or moisturizer. The simplest thing to apply to bring relief from cracked skin is petroleum jelly, more popular by its brand name Vaseline. Vitamin E oil is also great to hydrate cracked skin.
- Use a pumice stone to gently scrape away dead skin cells so as to stimulate the growth of new ones. But do not scrape too hard. Avoid this step if your cracked skin is severe. Make sure to soak the area in warm water after to smoothen the newly-pumiced area.
- Wear gloves and socks when you sleep at night after a generous application of moisturizer. The overnight treatment will allow the moisture to seep through to the deeper layers of skin and soften cracked skin. Instead of a moisturizer, you can also try vitamin E oil, almond oil, cocoa butter, or sunflower oil as these are all very rich in minerals and vitamins which will seep through and nourish the skin, thus reducing itchiness and dryness.
- If you have only a mild case of cracked skin which is not too deep, you can close the fissures with some super glue. Soak the affected area in warm water for ten minutes, thoroughly dry them and apply a generous layer of petroleum jelly to prepare it first. Use your fingers to gently hold open the fissures of your cracked skin. Now carefully apply super glue directly in the fissures and press them closed. Wait for glue to dry and then apply another layer of petroleum jelly. Next wrap the area with plastic wrap. Do this whole procedure at night since you will need to sleep with that plastic wrap on. You can get rid of it in the morning.
- Another great home remedy for cracked skin is to simply apply a layer of pure aloe-vera gel on to the affected area.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to remain hydrated.
- Here’s a fun idea if you have the time and want to do all you can to keep cracked skin from occurring. Why not make your own homemade soap? Sure, it requires some effort. But you will know exactly what is going into your soap and thus on to your skin. Can you imagine the benefits your skin will reap? No more dryness, rashes or cracked skin and you will be doing the planet a favor.
- Your diet too can help you heal cracked skin. Eat foods that are high in zinc and omega 3 fatty acids to nourish your skin from within. Making a change to your diet will help protect your body from cracked skin. Include more vitamins and minerals in your daily meals. If you find it difficult to do so, then ask a doctor to prescribe supplements.
When it comes to cracked skin, prevention is the best way to treat it. Ensure that you follow the tips above all the time and not just when you suffer from cracked skin.
When to See a Doctor for Cracked Skin
- If the cracked skin is too painful or the cracks are too deep, see your dermatologist for medical treatment. Be extra careful here as deeply cracked skin can cause a skin infection which in turn has the potential to develop into a fatal blood infection called sepsis.
- Diabetics should be extra careful with cracked skin. The cracked skin will heal slower in diabetics, which may lead to ulcers. These ulcers are quite dangerous and may even cause the affected area to be amputated due to gangrene.
- Very deeply cracked skin may require surgery. So do not wait for it to go away or treat deeply cracked skin on your own. See your doctor.
- If your cracked skin develops white ulcers, make an appointment with your doctor.
- Another time you should see a doctor is if your cracked skin is accompanied by swelling, fever, redness, heat, delirium, confusion, hallucinations or lethargy. These are all signs that an infection has occurred.