After a winter that felt like an eternity, we’re getting antsy to trade in our stuffy socks and boots for some airy open-toed sandals. Only problem is our feet aren’t exactly ready for their big debut. Lingering blisters from ill-fitting flats, neglected toenails and dry, cracked heels are just the beginning of a laundry list of things that make us want to hide inside our socks forever.
We asked a podiatrist and a derm how to take feet from gross to gorgeous so they’re ready to come out and see the light of day—without causing you any foot shame. Here, they tell us how to tackle some of our peskiest and most pressing foot problems.
Dry Skin & Cracked Heels
Ah, the telltale sign of a cold, dry winter. Quinton Yeldell, D.P.M., co-founder of Brooklyn-based natural foot care company Southern Hospitality, says a rich foot cream is key for fixing cracked heels. Apply foot cream (Southern Hospitality’s comes in eight amazing scents) two to three times daily, preferably after a bath or shower. “Warmth opens the pores of your skin and enables the best penetration of your foot cream,” Dr. Yeldell says.“Dry, cracked heels not only look unsightly, but they can also be painful,” explains dermatologist Doris Day, M.D. For a heavy duty moisturizing treatment, Dr. Day recommends her own nighttime routine: Apply a rich skin-repairing cream, like , to feet after showering, and then slip into clean cotton socks. “When you wake up, your feet will be smooth and soft.”
If cracked heels ever become open wounds, treat the open wounds instead and do not apply foot cream over them.
Since a callus is just a buildup of dead skin cells formed from constant rubbing and friction, exfoliating regularly is key in nixing them. Never attempt to remove calluses when skin is dry, says Yelldell, as it can cause abrasions and damage. To prime feet, start with a soak.“Foot soaks can be beneficial for relieving stress, reducing aches and softening skin,” says Day. Soak feet in warm water, and add a teaspoon of Epsom salts for better results. After soaking (or during/after a shower) massage a foot scrub onto the calloused area to gently slough off dead skin. For more stubborn calluses, try using a foot file or pumice brush every other day. Although it may be tempting to take scissors or nail clippers to the dead skin, Yeldell explicitly advises against it: “NEVER use any sharp objects or blades to remove calluses.”
We all know those people with perpetually stinky feet—maybe you’re one. Yeldell explains that this stench is a direct result of bacteria that forms when feet sweat. Make sure to always wash and completely dry feet so that bacteria are less likely to grow. If you’re exfoliating them regularly, you’ll also help bring down the stank factor.
To help absorb moisture, dust feet with powder, focusing extra on the soles and between the toes where bacteria tends to lurk. Soaking feet is also helpful. “Soaking your feet in a basin of warm water and Epsom salt helps draw out the sweat and excess toxins your feet accumulate throughout your busy day.”Also, don’t wear the same socks and shoes for consecutive days if you can help it. Yeldell recommends letting them air out for 24 hours after wearing, and if possible, replace your insoles every 2-3 months depending on activity level—they’re breeding grounds for bacteria.
The most obvious way to prevent blisters is to wear shoes that fit. But the combination of sweat feet and friction, either from physical activity or breaking in that new pair of shoes that’s a bit more fashionable rather than functional, is bound to give you a new blister every now and then.If it’s not causing too much discomfort, leave it alone and it’ll heal itself. But in areas that are irritating you, like the soles of the feet or in between toes, it might be necessary to puncture the blister to relieve pressure and pain. Never forcefully squeeze—intead, use a needle sterilized with rubbing alcohol or over a flame. “Next, gently insert the needle into the side of the blister to allow escape of the fluid inside the blister. Once drained, clean the area, dry it and apply a topical antibiotic with a bandage.”
If you’re constantly wearing shoes that are too tight, it can create pressure around the toes and lead to ingrown nails. And not only are they unsightly, but they can get pretty painful, too. If you tend to get ingrowns, look for shoes that are wider around the toe area. “There should always be a thumbs-width space from the end of your toe to the end of your shoe (very important for gym-goers, runners, those wearing dress shoes).”Cutting your nails straight across instead of rounding them at the corners, will help them to grow outward instead of into your skin. If your nails are ingrown and you have any sort of pain or swelling, it could be an infection, says Yeldell. Don’t attempt to fix it yourself; go see a podiatrist to get it fixed.
Note: Diabetics and individuals with a history of nerve damage should never attempt to remove their calluses, blisters, or cut toenails themselves, and instead should seek treatment with a podiatrist.