What causes cracked skin?

You can get cracked skin from environmental factors such as dry air, particularly during cold winter months. Certain medical disorders can also contribute to dry, cracked skin—especially disorders that cause nerve damage, reduced sweating, or dehydration—as well as other skin conditions.

Medical causes of cracked skin

Cracked skin may be caused by a number of medical conditions including:

  • Anhidrosis (reduced or loss of sweating) in diabetes, a chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy
  • Atopy (allergic skin reaction)
  • Dermatitis (a skin inflammation which has many causes)
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)
  • Eczema (itchy, scaly skin)
  • Excess body weight (extra pressure on the heels can cause the skin to crack)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Ichthyosis (a hereditary disease characterized by scaly skin)
  • Inadequate moisture content to skin
  • Psoriasis (a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales)

Nonmedical causes of cracked skin

You can also get cracked skin from excessive exposure to external factors including:

  • Abrupt change in temperatures (hot to cold, cold to hot)
  • Cold weather
  • Excessive exposure to hot water, detergents, or harsh chemicals
  • Forced-air heat
  • Prolonged standing (causing pressure on the skin of the heels)
  • Sandals, sling-back, or open-backed shoes (causing heel expansion on the sides that can crack the skin)
  • Walking barefoot

Serious or life-threatening causes of cracked skin

In some cases, cracked skin may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated by your healthcare provider. These include:

  • Diabetes (a chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Malnutrition
  • Nondiabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disease affecting the glands that produce sweat, tears and saliva)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of cracked skin

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your cracked skin such as:

  • How long have you had cracked skin?
  • Have you had cracked skin in other parts of your body?
  • Have you had redness, scaling or itching?
  • Do you feel warmth near the site?
  • Has there been any bleeding at or near the affected site?
  • Have you had a rash recently or do you have a rash now?
  • Have you had any blistering, oozing or pus near your cracked skin?
  • Have you had a fever?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Have you had any insect bites?

What are the potential complications of cracked skin?

In you have deep fissures, cracked skin can lead to infections. In rare cases, if left untreated, these skin infections can become systemic and lead to sepsis, a life-threatening bacterial blood infection. It is important that you treat any crack or opening in your skin to avoid complications. Also, because cracked skin can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Deepening fissures
  • Deep-tissue skin infections
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
  • Spreading skin infection


  1. Winter dry skin. University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. http://www.uichildrens.org/Adam/?/HIE%20Multimedia/1/003250.
  2. Dry skin. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003250.htm.
  3. Langan SM, Williams HC. What causes worsening of eczema? A systematic review. Br J Dermatol 2006; 155:504.

What is cracked skin?

Cracked skin is a classic symptom of dry skin, but it can also occur in response to scratches or other trauma, or infection. When the skin dries, it can become rough and flaky, with small tears that can lead to deeper cracks called fissures, which can extend into the deeper layers of the skin.

Cracked skin is often accompanied by other symptoms of dry skin, with one symptom often ... Read more about cracked skinintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with cracked skin?

Cracked skin may accompany other symptoms affecting the skin which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that most frequently accompany cracks in the skin are scaling and itchiness, as well as redness and dryness of the surrounding skin.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with cracked skin

Depending on the disorder, cracked skin may a... Read more about cracked skinsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails

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