Pedi-Cures: Protecting the Skin You Walk In

Warts & Athlete's Foot

Wart's the Matter

If it's painful to walk — as if there's a stone in your shoe — you might be suffering from plantar warts. These erupt on the sole of the foot after a virus enters the body through a break in the skin. With the pressure of standing and walking, the warts begin to grow inward into the foot. Plantar warts look much like calluses, but are sometimes distinguishable by the tiny black dots on their surface (the ends of capillary blood vessels).

The viruses that cause plantar warts thrive in warm, moist environments. To lessen the opportunity for the virus to penetrate its way into your foot, dermatologist Rish recommends wearing slippers whenever possible, such as when you're walking in the gym locker room or around the house.

To treat a plantar wart, a doctor can trim the wart and apply a chemical dressing. Often, the doctor will instruct you to continue care at home by applying salicylic acid patches daily.

Plantar warts can sometimes become a chronic problem. "They can be cut off, burned off, frozen off, treated with over-the-counter acid solutions," Rish says, but still, 50 percent of the time they come back. Pursuing effective treatment is important because otherwise warts can multiply and "one wart becomes two, three and four."

Athlete's Foot Facts

While myth has it that walking barefoot in the locker room is a sure-fire way to catch so-called athlete's foot, scientific studies show that fungal infections of the feet don't seem to be contagious at all. In fact, because it is moisture, sweating, and lack of ventilation that cause the fungi to proliferate, people who tend to go barefoot are actually less likely than others to develop athlete's foot.

Technically known as tinea pedis, athlete's foot infections are caused by living germs that grow on all people, but for unknown reasons only develop into athlete's foot in some. The condition most often affects men, and only rarely women and young children.

Symptoms of athlete's foot can include peeling, cracking and scaling between the toes; redness, scaling and blisters on the soles and sides of the feet; and often accompanying itchiness.

To avoid getting athlete's foot:

  • Wash your feet daily, and dry them thoroughly, including between your toes.
  • Avoid tight shoes, especially in the summer, when sandals are the best choice.
  • Wear socks made of cotton rather than synthetic material, and change your socks at least daily and more often if they become damp.
  • Go barefoot when possible, such as at home.
  • In the summertime, dust an anti-fungal powder in your shoes.

Athlete's foot can usually be treated "very effectively" with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams, though prescription pills may be needed for resistant cases, according to Norman Levine, M.D., professor and chief of dermatology at the University of Arizona.