Keep dry skin and cracked heels at bay.
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When it comes to skin and body care, our feet tend to be overlooked. This is especially true during the winter, when they are mostly covered up while we're out and about. Still, it's important to pay attention to our feet, even during the winter, in order to avoid major skin concerns that can crop up when we ignore them. To that end, we asked podiatrists Jackie Sutera, DPM, and Emily Splichal, DPM, to tell us everything we need to know about caring for our feet during the cold-weather season.

woman soaking feet in small tub
Credit: Daria Kulkova / Getty Images

Dry, cracked skin is the most common foot-related problems during winter.

According to Dr. Sutera, who is also an innovation lab member at Vionic, a shoe company, dry and cracked skin are the two conditions most people experience on their feet when it starts to get colder. The former, she explains, worsens as you grow older; your natural oil production decreases and skin becomes thinner, making you more prone to dryness when the temperatures drop. The latter, also known as fissures, is the result of severely dry skin; feet get thicker and become callused before they bleed and crack, which could lead to infection. Increased pressure—you experience this while walking in shoes—can also cause cracks on the bottoms of your feet. Dr. Splichal notes that cracks typically appear on your heels, where winter boots and shoes rub.

Fungal infections are also common, Dr. Splichal adds, and pop up due to prolonged time in socks. Skin flare-ups affiliated with Raynaud's syndrome, which decreases blood flow and can cause fingers and toes to change color, and painful inflammation called chilblains, which causes itching, red patches, swelling, and blisters, are other concerns to pay close attention to, says Dr. Sutera.

Prevention is the best treatment.

It's always best to prevent these foot-related skin concerns before they happen, and the colder months are actually the best time to give your feet some serious care. "Take a break from pedicures and nail polish," advises Dr. Sutera. "This is also the time to examine your feet and seek treatment if necessary." Keep your feet clean, dry, and moisturized throughout the winter, adds Dr. Splichal; she also recommends frequent exfoliation and hydration of your heels (use a foot file gently to avoid cuts). Wearing warm socks and slippers—like those from Vionic ($99.95, voinicshoes.com)—will keep feet cozy and warm while also providing comfort and good arch support, Dr. Splichal says.

At-home care should also include daily use of topical balms or creams that are formulated specifically for your feet, which are gentle, but made with effective acids that exfoliate the skin and break down calluses while providing moisture, notes Dr. Sutera. She recommends AmLactin's Foot Repair Cream ($14.69, amazon.com) or Kerasal's Intensive Foot Repair ($7.84, amazon.com). Dr. Splichal prefers water-based moisturizers, like Footlogix Rough Skin Formula ($27, amazon.com).

Exfoliate and moisturize if you any issues crop up.

If you do experience dry, cracked feet—or any of the other aforementioned winter-related concerns—there are a few ways to start treatment. Dr. Sutera recommends using a foot file one to two times a week to exfoliate away dry dermis and thin out calluses and cracks; file in one direction, not back and forth (this can rip the skin and cause more damage). Clean the file after every use. Lastly, moisturize your feet daily. If your condition lingers or worsens (cracks start to bleed, fungal infections set in, nail damage begins), you're likely experiencing a more serious issue and should seek medical attention. If that's the case, both Dr. Sutera and Dr. Splichal advise seeing a podiatrist, who can assess your feet and recommend a treatment plan.

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