You might say your feet are the unsung heroes of your body. On a daily basis, your feet support a force equal to hundreds of tons. It's little wonder, then, that most people experience foot problems at some point during their lives [source: APMA General Foot Health].
Foot problems can be caused by something as simple as forgetting to wear flip-flops in your gym's shower one day, or they may be caused by long-term abuse and neglect. Fortunately, a daily foot skin care regimen can go a long way toward avoiding and alleviating many foot problems.
Good foot skin care contributes to overall good health. If you're diabetic, excellent foot care is absolutely vital. Diabetes can damage foot nerves and reduce blood flow. If you're diabetic and have suffered nerve damage, you may not even realize that you've developed a blister. Diabetes also makes it harder to resist infection, and healing can be a real challenge.
Good foot hygiene is also crucial for people with peripheral artery disease (PAD). People with PAD or diabetes should always consult with a doctor about any foot concerns [source: Klobassa]. Finally, age makes people more susceptible to certain foot problems. Being aware of and caring for potential problems early on can make it easier to address them before they become a serious problem.
Keep your feet happy and they'll serve you well for many years to come. In this article, you'll learn what it takes to put your best foot forward at all times. Take your first step in the right direction and read on to discover the importance of daily foot cleansing.
Proper foot cleansing is one of the easiest things to do to keep your feet healthy.
Start by washing your feet daily with warm water and soap. Dry your feet carefully, especially between your toes. Be sure to take a good look at your feet on a regular basis -- preferably daily if you have diabetes. If you can't see the bottom of your feet, use a mirror or ask someone to look for you.
If you have diabetes, look closely for any changes in the color and temperature of your feet, a thickening or discoloration of your nails, peeling or scaling on the soles of your feet, any growths, or cracks or cuts in the skin [source: APMA].
Treating yourself to a pedicure, at home or by a professional, is a great way to cleanse your feet and identify any potential problems. If you're giving yourself a pedicure, follow these steps:
- Soak your feet in warm, soapy water for ten minutes.
- Use an orange stick to push back your cuticles.
- Trim your nails straight. Only trim cuticles that hang over the edge of your nail margin.
- Finally, smooth toenail edges with an emery board.
It's very important to trim your nails straight. Curving nails might lead to painful ingrown toenails. Many experts recommend that you be able to see just a fraction of an inch of skin above your nail margin.
Once your feet are clean, foot moisturizing is your next step. Read on for tips for combining moisturizer with a relaxing, yet energizing, foot massage.
Massaging a cream or lotion onto your foot after cleansing serves two purposes: It keeps your feet soft and supple, and it rejuvenates them. Keeping your feet soft and supple may prevent other problems from developing, such as corns or cracked heels. Many products are made specifically for moisturizing your feet. Look for those that are emollient-enriched. To prevent athlete's foot, make sure no moisturizer remains between your toes.
In addition to moisturizing, rolling your feet over a rolling pin or an unopened can on the floor is an easy and effective way to massage your feet at home. You can also use your thumbs to apply pressure to the balls of your feet and to the arches. This will relieve the tension after a hard day of use. Finish with a 5-second squeeze to each Achilles tendon, repeated two or three times [source: Klobassa].
Have you ever heard of a sauna for your feet? For an inexpensive and effective foot sauna, wrap each foot lightly in cellophane before going to bed, after you moisturize your feet. In the morning you should awaken with soft feet for a fraction of the price that a professional foot sauna would cost [source: APMA].
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, more than half of all women have had a problem with dry, rough, cracked or irritated skin on their feet. Find out what you can do to cure cracked skin on the next page.
Treating Cracked Skin on the Foot
Cracked heels can range from an unattractive nuisance to an extremely painful condition. Cracks or fissures can become so deep that standing, walking or applying any pressure becomes painful, and serious cracks may also begin to bleed.
Cracked heels may simply start with dry skin, or they may be the result of other conditions, including psoriasis, diabetes, hypothyroidism and atopic dermatitis. In addition, corns and calluses can lead to cracked heels, particularly if a person is overweight, stands for a long time on hard floors or wears open-back shoes or sandals [source: New Zealand Dermatological Society].
If you take care of your heels properly, you will most likely prevent cracked heels. Proper care is simple -- use a moisturizing cream on a regular basis. If cracked heels are already a problem, use the moisturizer two to three times a day. Before using moisturizer, you can rub callused areas with a pumice stone to reduce their thickness. Look for foot moisturizers that contain urea, salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids or saccharide isomerate because these water-retaining agents will help keep the foot moisturized [source:New Zealand Dermatological Society].
If your home treatment of cracked heels doesn't work after a week, see a podiatrist. Treatments include debridement, which involves cutting away the thick skin, and strapping, a method used to hold cracks together as they heal. Consider using prescription creams and special insoles or other products to redistribute the weight on the heel and provide better support.
Good moisturizing doesn't just help prevent or cure cracked heels; it can also help keep away corns and calluses. Find out how to treat unsightly or sometimes painful corns and calluses on the next page.
Treating Corns and Calluses
Corns and calluses are quite similar. Both are tough, thick layers of skin formed by friction and pressure. Corns are usually smaller than calluses and have a hard center known as the kernel. They can develop in a number of areas on the foot but are more often found in areas that are not weight-bearing, such as the tops and sides of toes. Calluses typically develop on the soles of your feet, and they don't usually become painful unless you develop cracked heels.
As with a number of foot ailments, prevention is your best line of defense. Shoes that don't fit -- both shoes that are too tight and shoes that are too loose -- can cause corns and calluses to develop. High-heeled shoes are another common culprit, as are narrow, pointy shoes. Wearing shoes without socks or wearing sandals that rub against your foot might also lead to corns and calluses.
Corns or calluses that don't cause too much discomfort and aren't inflamed can usually be treated at home. Treatment is simple. Use over-the-counter pads to provide a barrier between your foot and the cause of the friction on your foot. Use caution with liquid corn removals or pads with salicylic acid, as they can cause irritation [source: Mayo Clinic].
You can also soak your feet in warm, soapy water to soften the hardened skin. While you're soaking, or right after, use a pumice stone to remove some of the toughened skin. If you use a pumice stone, only remove a little skin at a time [source: Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists]. Then use moisturizer to help keep the skin pliable.
If your efforts to treat the problem at home are ineffective, see your doctor. A podiatrist can use a scalpel to get rid of some of the problem skin. He or she may apply a patch with 40 percent salicylic acid, prescribe an antibiotic ointment or suggest you use custom-made inserts for your shoes [source: Mayo Clinic].
Corns and calluses are usually caused by wearing shoes. The next problem that you'll read about, athlete's foot is somewhat the opposite. Read on to learn more.
Preventing Athlete's Foot
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the foot that causes itching, stinging and burning. It usually develops between the toes, but it also can show up on other parts of the foot. Cracking and peeling skin, excessive dryness or thick, ragged, discolored toenails are some additional symptoms.
Although you can't protect yourself completely from the risk of athlete's foot, you can greatly reduce your chances of contracting it. Wear flip-flops in locker rooms or other public places with damp surfaces. Wash your feet daily and make sure you dry them well, paying particular attention to the areas between your toes. Wear clean socks every day and change them more often if your feet tend to sweat a lot. Talcum powder can also help keep sweaty feet dry.
It's wise to wear a different pair of shoes every day so the shoes can dry out. It's also a good idea to go barefoot at home regularly to give your tootsies a good airing.
If, despite your precautions, you end up with a case of athlete's foot, you can often treat it at home. An over-the-counter antifungal cream, spray, powder or ointment may clear up the problem in about four weeks. Use a medication with clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine or tolnaftate [source: Mayo Athlete's Foot].
Athlete's foot might seem to disappear after treatment, only to reappear later. You must use your over-the-counter medication as directed for as long as the instructions specify. [source: Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists].
If home treatment doesn't clear up your athlete's foot, a doctor can prescribe a topical medication. Sometimes, if it still won't go away, an oral medication might be necessary. However, oral medications can have a number of side effects. Steroid ointments, compresses or soaking your feet in vinegar are other possible treatments that your doctor may prescribe [source: Mayo Athlete's Foot].
Fortunately, you can do many things to help keep your feet happy. See the next page for more links on keeping the skin on your feet healthy.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Skin Care Questions
- American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. "Practice Good Foot Hygiene and Toenail Care." January 2008. (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.aofas.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=73
- American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. "The Adult Foot." January 2008. (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.aofas.org/scripts/4disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=62
- American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. "Watch Out for These Red Flags." January 2008. (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.aofas.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=75
- American Podiatric Medical Association. "Athlete's Foot." (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/Foot-Health/FootHealthBrochures/GeneralFootHealthBrochures/AthletesFoot.aspx
- American Podiatric Medical Association. "Give Your Feet Star Treatment." (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/Foot-Health/FootHealthBrochures/GeneralFootHealthBrochures/BeautyYourFeet.aspx
- American Podiatric Medical Association. "General Foot Health." (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/Foot-Health/FootHealthBrochures/GeneralFootHealthBrochures/GeneralFootHealth.aspx
- American Podiatric Medical Association. "'Tis the Season to Avoid Foot Follies: Tips to Keep You on Your Feet." December 15, 2008. (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/News/MediaRoom/CurrentNewsReleases/TistheSeasontoAvoidFootFolliesTipstoKeepYouonYourFeet.aspx
- Federal Trade Commission. "FTC Charges Marketers of Kinoki Foot Pads with Deceptive Advertising; Seeks Funds for Consumer Redress." 1/28/09 (accessed 7/31/09) http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/01/xacta.shtm
- Klobassa, Nancy, R.N., and Peggy Moreland, R.N. "Blog: Diabetes Foot Care." Mayo Clinic. 5/13/09. (Accessed 7/31/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes-foot-care/MY00688
- Mayo Clinic. "Athlete's Foot." 11/22/08 (Accessed 7/30/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/athletes-foot/DS00317
- Mayo Clinic. "Corns and Calluses." 4/4/09. (Accessed 7/30/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/corns-and-calluses/DS00033
- Medline Plus. "Athlete's Foot." 6/8/09. (Accessed 7/30/09) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/athletesfoot.html
- National Institute on Aging. "Age Page: Foot Care." 2/19/09. (Accessed 7/31/09) http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/footcare.htm
- New Zealand Dermatological Society. "Cracked Heels." 6/15/09. (Accessed 8/1/09) http://dermnetnz.org/scaly/cracked-heels.html
- Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. "Athlete's Foot." 7/20/06. (Accessed 7/30/09) http://www.feetforlife.org/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=63&d=96&h=24&f=46
- Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. "Callus." 7/20/06. (Accessed 7/30/09) http://www.feetforlife.org/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=60&d=96&h=24&f=46&dateformat=%25o%20%25B%20%25Y
- Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. "Corns." 6/19/06. (Accessed 7/30/09) http://www.feetforlife.org/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=59&d=96&h=24&f=46