Guy Smarts: The best ways to treat your nasty feet

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How to prevent blisters, get rid of your calluses, and keep them fresh.

Your feet endure a lot each day: You wash them in a hot shower, squeeze them into stiff work shoes, where they stay tucked away for 10 hours, and then you lace up your sneakers for a run or training session.

By evening, they’re tired, sweaty, and funky as hell.

This can lead to any number of issues. Blisters and calluses, cracked heels, and fungal infections are just some of the joys that result from your active lifestyle. And since there’s no way you’re going to stop moving, you instead need an ongoing plan.

We assembled a few remedies, thanks to expertise from Dr. Ettore Vulcano, a foot and ankle surgeon at Mount Sinai in New York City, and Dr. Michael Swann, M.D. and dermatologist in Springfield, MO.

How to Prevent Blisters and Calluses

“Blisters and calluses are both caused by a combination of friction, moisture, and rubbing,” Dr. Swann says. Blisters are the first sign of any such wear. The skin swells with fluid and causes discomfort, whereas calluses are indication of chronic injury. Calluses protect the skin from further agony by creating a thick, defensive layer over the site. However, while the body is adept in shielding itself from further strain, blisters and calluses are both preventable.

Dr. Swann says that two things must be targeted to prevent them: better shoe fit, and avoiding moisture. “Sweaty feet are more likely to get blisters because the moisture increases friction,” he says. And, if the shoe isn’t snug (or is too snug), this also increases friction on the foot.

As for moisture, switch out your socks immediately before and after a workout, or after being on your feet all day at work. Spray or sprinkle drying powder on your feet before tucking them away. Dry Goods Athletic Spray Powder is great for preventing moisture and chafing.

Dr. Vulcano says to stick with high-end, well-engineered shoes that are designated for your task at hand. (Especially if you’re running, be sure to buy running shoes specifically.) And in addition to blisters and calluses, he says “minimalist shoes transmit too much stress and can lead to foot fractures, ligament tears, or tendon strain.” However, because you’re switching shoes for different occasions throughout the day, the best solution is in the insoles, since they are often customized for the arch of your foot (or lack thereof). Dr. Vulcano’s patients with flat feet often benefit from Aetrex L420, whereas those with high arches prefer Arch Rivals Orthotics.

How to Treat Blisters and Calluses

Dr. Vulcano advises against draining your own blisters, as this can lead to infection. “Pad the blister with thick band-aids, and let the blister pop on its own,” he says. “Use Betadine to disinfect it, then soak it in Epsom salts to help the blister dry.”

As for softening and eliminating calluses, Dr. Swann prescribes acidic moisturizers like Am-Lactin, urea creams, or Lac-Hydrin. These help exfoliate the dead skin cells while nourishing and hydrating everything else. But he urges that you should take it slow: “A good approach is to not try to do too much at one time,” he says.

Dr. Vulcano adds that for bigger calluses, you can also gently grind away on them with a pumice stone. “Avoid excess scraping, which can lead to bleeding,” he says. And, before you scrape, Dr. Vulcano says to soak the feet in warm water, which softens the callus and makes it easier to exfoliate the dead skin.

Keep Your Feet Healthy and Fresh

Once your feet are free of blisters and calluses—or if you’re lucky enough to be at that starting block already—Dr. Swann says it’s a good idea to deploy Am-Lactin routinely to maximize exfoliation on areas like feet that are prone to thickening.

Dr. Vulcano says to use an organic moisturizer daily after soaking or showering to maximize absorption. He prefers organic products since they’re free of chemicals and gentle on the skin. As an alternative, Dr. Vulcano likes aloe vera gel since it is “inexpensive, moisturizing, elasticizing, and refreshing.”

But there’s more to it than just keeping the skin soft. “Feet have a higher bacterial and fungal load than many other areas of the skin,” Dr. Swann says. “Washing with soap and water, plus exfoliating outer layers and trimming toenails all help minimize areas for bacteria and fungi to flourish.” To further avoid infection, you should never go barefoot in a public place, like the gym locker room or showers, and don’t share socks or shoes with anyone else.

To keep the feet dry and fungus free, Dr. Vulcano says most powders work well. But he says to not use anti-fungal powders routinely, since they are best when used to treat a condition, and can in turn have their own damaging effects on the skin when used in a prolonged manner. Stick with a non-anti-fungal option, like Dry Goods Athletic Spray Powder