How to take care of your feet for sandal season
Prevent and treat corns, warts, blisters, athlete’s foot, and more.
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Feet are the most neglected part of the body, even if you are someone who uses a foot spa regularly or treats yourself to the occasional pedicure. In the cooler months, you may shove your feet into socks and boots and not think much of it ... until sandal season comes around and you’re baring more skin.
Now that your feet are exposed for the world to see, you might want to consider what’s going on in between your toes and under your arches. To shed some light on common foot woes, we enlisted the help of Dr. Miguel Cunha, a podiatrist and the founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City.
What are calluses?
If you’ve ever noticed hardened skin around areas where your bones are more prominent, like the ball of your foot, under your pinky toe, or at your heel, it’s likely a callus. “Essentially the skin is in between a rock and a hard place,” Cunha says. “The rock being the bone and the hard place being the shoe or the ground.” Over time, the friction of the skin rubbing between the bone and the shoe causes it to harden and that build-up of hard skin is called a callus.
Calluses are normal and aren’t necessarily a problem, but the best way to keep a callus from getting worse and becoming painful is to wear proper shoes and even orthotic insoles that can distribute your foot’s pressure more evenly. What you’ll need for shoes and orthotics depends on where you are getting the calluses and where you may have pain while walking—you may want ones designed to help with heel pressure if you typically see calluses on your heels, for example. For the best luck, either consult your doctor or buy ones designated to relieve pressure off of the area where you notice repeated calluses.
Another method to prevent calluses is also a treatment for them: soaking the feet and exfoliating the skin. Whether you use a foot spa or fill a bucket, submerging your feet in warm water softens the callused skin, making it easier to slough off dead skin with a pumice stone, an exfoliating scrub, or a callus file. Cunha suggests adding Epsom salts or apple cider vinegar to the soak water, both of which help further the skin-softening process. Follow up your foot bath scrub by applying a cream containing urea, which moisturizes and soothes dry, cracked skin, to the affected areas and put your feet into a pair of socks and let them sit overnight. Repeat this process anytime you feel calluses building up on your feet.
What are corns?
Like calluses, corns are hardened skin caused by friction and pressure usually from ill-fitting shoes, but they form on the tops of toes or in the arches of the feet where the bones aren’t prominent. Corns are also round (calluses are shapeless), smaller in surface area, and can be painful to the touch due to the inflammation around them.
The prevention and treatment methods are the same as calluses, but because corns can be more sensitive, you should take extra caution when soaking and exfoliating them and contact your doctor if pain persists.
In general, Cunha suggests contacting your doctor if you see redness, inflammation, or discharge; have moderate-to-severe pain in the area; or if you experience malaise, fever, nausea, or vomiting. These could all be signs of an infection that requires in-person removal or other treatment from a doctor.
What is athlete’s foot?
The name is a bit deceiving, as you don’t need to play sports to have this type of fungal infection. If you notice a scaly red patch or peeling skin anywhere on your foot, but especially in between your toes, and feel itchiness, particularly just after removing a shoe, you may have athlete’s foot. This fungal infection is contagious, meaning you can get it from skin-to-skin contact or by touching contaminated surfaces like a gym floor. In addition, wearing sweaty or damp socks and shoes provides the perfect environment for the fungus to thrive—and it can spread to other areas of the body if you touch the infected area. It can also spread to toenails, causing the nails to turn yellow, feel thicker, look ragged, or have a buildup of whitish, yellow debris (e.g., fungus) underneath them when you clip or file them down.
To prevent athlete’s foot or the spread of it, wear well-fitting, ventilated shoes and step out of moist socks and shoes as soon as possible to allow the skin to dry. Keep your feet well-groomed, washing in between your toes in the shower and drying your feet right away. Lastly, Cunha suggests treating the inside of your shoes, your shower, and any other places that may exacerbate the fungus. To do this, spray Lysol, or a similar disinfectant, and follow the instructions that outline how long you need to leave the spray on the surface in order to properly disinfect.
To give your feet some relief, try a powder like the Gold Bond Maximum Strength Foot Powder, which claims to relieve itch, absorb moisture, and control odor; reviewers also love the cooling effect from menthol.
What are plantar warts?
Warts can grow anywhere on the body, but when they form on the soles of the feet or underneath the toes, they’re called plantar warts. Warts are round in shape like corns, but they have tiny black “pinpoints” in the center and may bleed from pressure. Plantar warts form as a result of a viral infection, human papillomavirus (HPV), which can spread from skin-to-skin contact or skin-to-surface contact, say, from walking barefoot on communal surfaces like a gym floor or locker room shower. They also thrive in moist, warm environments like inside a sock or shoe.
Preventing warts is similar to preventing the spread of athlete’s foot: Keep your feet clean, avoid walking barefoot on surfaces that could contain the virus, and disinfect any tools you use on your feet using Lysol.
Depending on the level of discomfort the wart is causing—if you’re in pain, it’s a sign to see a doctor—you can treat them the same way you would calluses and corns. This means soaking your feet in lukewarm water with Epsom salt or apple cider vinegar and gently exfoliating using a pumice stone. Just be sure to spray disinfectant (like that Lysol) on the pumice stone when you’re done, as you don’t want to spread the virus to other parts of your feet. You can also try an over-the-counter treatment like the Compound W One-Step Plantar Foot Pads, which treat the wart with salicylic acid and act as a shield to prevent further irritation.
If the wart is growing in size or becomes painful, or if it persists despite regular soaks and exfoliation, see your doctor, as they can prescribe a salicylic acid treatment or “freeze” the wart off with liquid nitrogen.
What are blisters?
Everyone experiences foot blisters at one time or another—the fluid-filled bubbles that pop up after a long day of walking in the wrong shoes. To prevent these nuisances, Cunha suggests you begin with wearing well-fitting shoes, which not only means finding your size (pro tip: buy shoes at night when your feet are already swollen to avoid a too-tight fit), but also breaking them in before you wear them out (Cunha says the best break-in method is to wear them for five days, increasing the amount of time you wear them by two hours each day, then wear them all day on the last day).
It’s not only your shoes that matter, though. Friction can occur thanks to moisture from sweat that makes the skin stick and rub inside your shoe. To prevent this, wear moisture-wicking socks or apply a powder to your feet to absorb sweat. Though it may seem contradictory to the previous step, it alternatively may help to lubricate friction-prone areas with products like petroleum jelly, Run Goo, or Body Glide. This ensures that your socks or shoes sandals slide instead of chafe against the skin. Finally, you can also cover hotspots, or sensitive areas on the foot that are in a pre-blister state, with sports tape, moleskin, or blister bandages like those made by Hydro Seal.
In most cases, it’s best to leave the blister alone (protecting it as described above) and let it run its own healing course. But if it’s bothersome, you have a few options to treat it yourself. Dr. Suzanne Friedler, a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York City, suggests you clean and bandage up a “flaccid” blister, or one that’s soft and has fluid moving around inside it. If you have a blister that’s uncomfortably firm from the pressure of the fluid build-up, you may poke a small hole in the blister with a sterile needle to drain it, then apply an antibacterial ointment like Neosporin or Bacitracin, and cover it with a bandage.
If you like, you may also soak your feet in lukewarm water with Epsom salt, as you would with calluses, corns, or warts. “Soaking your feet in Epsom salt helps speed up the healing process,” Cunha says. “They contain magnesium, which can reduce swelling and pain associated with blisters.” After soaking, Cunha says to follow up with Betadine, an antiseptic that disinfects minor wounds, several times a day to dry out the blister.
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