This is another episode in the ongoing saga of my post-pregnancy struggle with cracked heels. I’ve posted before about how a weekly Apple Cider Vinegar & Eucalyptus Foot Soak and taking steps to Moisturize My Heels From the Inside Out has helped me. While my feet have drastically, and I mean DRASTICALLY changed – my cracks were so bad they were painful and bleeding at times – I’m still on the warpath to baby soft heels. (As of this writing, my feet are pretty much healed, but I’m still attacking them with this heel cream until they are beyond a doubt back to normal.)
Now, while I’ve been actively fighting cracked heels since I had Tessa nearly 15 weeks ago, I did not start using this recipe till about 4 week ago. Up till that time I had been religiously slathering coconut oil and olive oil on my skin 2-3 times a day, and feeling angry and flustered that I’d moisturize so faithfully, just to find an hour later that my feet were every bit as dry and calloused as they were before. I’d slather oil on before crawling into bed, then 15 minutes later I’d have to pull socks on because my dry skin was catching on the bed sheets. Talk about demoralizing.
It wasn’t until I started studying the science behind cracked heels and the make up of skin that I realized why the recommended skin-friendly moisturizers like coconut oil and olive oil weren’t working – and couldn’t work.
What Causes Cracked Heels
Cracked heels occur when unhealthy dry skin around the heel responds to pressure from the weight of walking, or even standing, and the skin simply splits. It could be due to sudden weight gain (like pregnancy), skin that has lost elasticity with age, or just a result of ongoing dehydration.
If you haven’t had much success rehydrating your heels with over the counter creams or lotions, you have to understand the basic nature of the skin on your feet.
The outer layers of the skin on your heels are designed to provide a natural barrier function, which consists of substances such as oils, cholesterol, fatty acids, ceramides and hyaluronic acid. The stratum corneum, the very top layer of the epidermis on your heels, is made up of cells that grab water using your body’s own natural moisturizing factors, amino acids and other molecules that are designed to absorb water and lock it inside the cell.
Without your body producing its own natural moisturizing factors, it simply CANNOT maintain or absorb the moisture you feed it through foot lotions and oils. At least not in the long term. It’s like trying to pour oil into a cracked cup. You may be able to fill it to the brim (look how oily and shiny my feet are!) but it will all eventually seep out (why are my feet so dry AGAIN?!).
Anyway, the health of the skins natural barrier function is crucial to provide lubrication and protection to your feet. If the barrier becomes damaged or impaired, like in the case of cracked heels, dehydration results.
Why Regular Moisturizers Won’t Work On Extremely Cracked Heels
Simply put, extremely cracked heels are physically unable to lock in moisture, rendering most skin care creams and lotions pointless. Now don’t get me wrong, healthy skin that is dry because of external factors can benefit from the average heel cream, because the oils in normal skin creams closely match the sebum content of skin (with bases like coconut oil and olive oil) and they successfully rehydrate the outer layers till the skin can naturally balance itself.
However, if you suffer from extremely cracked heels, the problem is almost always due to a combination of external AND internal factors. The problem with extremely unhealthy and cracked skin is that it can’t hold on to protective oils in the stratum corneum, and water escapes. Normal lotions contain humectants, which draw moisture to the skin’s surface (extremely cracked heels have little to none, there is nothing TO draw to the surface), and lack a barrier type ingredient to trap moisture on the skin, because in healthy skin this would clog pores.
So when it comes to using an effective moisturizer on extremely damaged skin, you need something to patch the cracks so to speak, to saturate the skin and allow your natural oils to pool up. It’s not the usual advice when it comes to skin care, but with excessively cracked heels, the intent is to actually smother the fissures to allow oil build up.
How To Make the Tea Tree Heel Cream
1 Cup Vegetable Shortening
2 Tablespoons Aloe Vera Gel
5-6 Drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
To make the cream, simply stir up the vegetable shortening until it takes on a smooth texture. Add the aloe vera gel and tea tree oil, and mix till it’s completely incorporated. Store it in a clean glass jar with a solid seal, and voila! You’re done!
To use, apply generous amounts in the morning,and at night before bedtime, using natural fabric socks to seal in the moisture (while still allowing your feet to breathe). It’s also extremely effective when applied after a shower or after a foot soak.
How it Works
Vegetable Shortening – Used chiefly for baking and cooking, vegetable shortening is made of hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, along with mono- and diglycerides. Bear in mind, vegetable shortening is not suitable for a regular skin moisturizer (nor is it overly fantastic for eating, for that matter). It can clog pores and cause pooling of oils, especially if used on your face, arms or legs, where sebaceous glands exist in high concentrations. DO NOT PUT VEGETABLE SHORTENING ANYWHERE BUT ON YOUR HANDS AND FEET! The palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet are the ONLY parts of your body that do not have sebaceous glands.
Vegetable shortening used on damaged feet acts as an emergency measure ultra emollient – a substance that inhibits the evaporation of water. It also acts as an artificial barrier over the skin to prevent loss of water, and aids in restoring natural skin hydration. You can think of it as sort of like putting a band-aid on your skin. It’s important to keep in mind that vegetable oil acts as a moisturizing agent only to the extent that it keeps the area of skin that it is applied to smothered and moist. While most natural oil moisturizers include important nutrients that support skin health, vegetable oil provides no nutrients whatsoever. It simply seals off your skin, preventing it from breathing.
NOTE: Vegetable shortening is not a “natural” ingredient. The artificial oils that make up vegetable shortening are extracted through chemical processes. If you are on a strict natural ingredients only skin care “diet”, then this is not the recipe for you. While I use only all natural ingredients in my skin care, I make an exception for this one recipe, due to the lack of adsorption in extremely dried heels. It does not soak into the skin, it simply sits on it, sort of like sticking a band-aid on a boo boo.
Aloe Vera Gel – Aloe vera has been used as a healing salve since the ancient Egyptians called it the “plant of immortality” thousands of years ago. The aloe vera plant contains over 75 different nutrients including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, sugars, anthraquinones or phenolic compounds, lignin, saponins, sterols, amino acids and salicylic acid. Aloe vera gel contains a plethora of antioxidants including beta carotene and vitamin C and E, all of which help improve the skin texture and work to keep the skin hydrated. While the vegetable shortening just sits on the skin, the aloe vera penetrates the dry cells and works to keep them moist. It’s like a kick starter of moisture to the dry skin, before you seal it up to rebuild its own moisture stores.
Tea Tree Essential Oil – Tea tree oil is known to have – *deep breath* – analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antiseptic, antiviral, decongestant, deodorant, diaphoretic, expectorant, fungicidal, immune stimulant, insecticide and vulnerary qualities. There’s a reason this essential oil is used in so many first aid and beauty recipes and remedies! And when it comes to locking any kind of moisture in to your skin (especially on the feet, which are prone to stubborn bacterial and fungal ailments) it’s good to include an antiseptic element. Tea tree oil has been referred to as a “first aid kit in a bottle” for its powerful ability to cure several types of organisms that are infectious, such as bacteria, fungus, and viruses.
And there you have it! After using this remedy, paired with a weekly foot soak, regular exfoliation with a pumice stone and peppermint salt scrub every time I shower, staying hydrated and moisturizing from the inside out, my feet have gone from painfully cracked and bleeding to baby soft and smooth.
Do you stuggle with cracked heels? What do you find helps?