How can you avoid getting blisters when you're wearing high heels?

high heels
As you can see, high heels may put your feet at an uncomfortable angle.
Mark Von Holden/Getty Images

Jimmy Choo. Manolo Blahnik. Christian Louboutin. If these names mean nothing to you, then you're obviously not a fan of the high-heeled shoe. Fashionistas everywhere spend outrageous amounts of money on stylish heels. Many women say you can't have too many pairs of shoes. High heels make you look taller and give the illusion of longer, slimmer legs. Plus, many people simply find them fashionable.

Lest you think that high heels are only for the ladies, though, we'd like to point out that high heels actually started with men! Back in 9th century Persia, men wore shoes with a high heel and sloped pitch for riding horses. In the early 1700s, France's King Louis XIV tottered around in 5-inch heels.


During the Renaissance period, women wore platform heels -- some up to 8 inches high -- in order to illustrate their wealth and standing in the community. Heels became mostly a fashion statement for women after that. However, the 1970s ushered in another era of platform shoes, and this time many men jumped on the bandwagon. Think John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever."

Today, thanks in part to the TV series "Sex and the City," sky-high heels and stilettos are back in style (really, though, did they ever leave?). However, style does come with a price. Medical professionals say that high-heeled shoes not only constrict your foot and toes, but also put increased weight on that constricted area because of the forward pitch of the shoe. High heels can aggravate bunions, trigger corns, calluses and hammertoe -- and can even cause stress fractures in some women's feet. Doctors don't recommend women wear high heels on a regular basis for these reasons.

Those problems are all more long-term, of course. Let's talk about a more common issue. One of the everyday, frequent problems your high heels may cause are blisters. While not terribly serious, blisters can be quite painful and more than a little annoying. They take a while to heal and sometimes become infected. Your stylish shoes aren't quite so stylish with a bloody Band-Aid hanging out of the back!

Don't trade your gorgeous new heels for a pair of Crocs just yet, though. We have some great advice on how to avoid those pesky blisters. First up, we'll talk a little bit about blisters and how they form.


How Blisters Form and How to Treat Them

What are blisters, exactly? Blisters are areas of raised skin with a watery-type liquid inside. You'll commonly see blisters on your hands or feet -- they happen because of repeated rubbing, friction and pressure. For example, if you're wearing a new pair of shoes and the shoe rubs constantly against the back of your heel, you'll likely form a blister.

Here's how it happens. A red area called a hot spot precedes your blister. As your heel rubs against the shoe -- or a strap rubs against your foot -- the skin becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes a tear to occur within the top layers of your skin, leaving a gap between the layers. Your body sends fluid to fill up this space, in order to protect it. Think of it like a small balloon under the top layer of your skin, cushioning the skin beneath.


Blisters tend to occur more often when the skin is sweaty and slipping around, which is why we seem to get more blisters in the summer. However, ill-fitting shoes also cause painful blisters. If your high-heeled shoes cause your feet to slide down to the front, putting pressure on your toes, chances are you're going to get some friction against the heel as you walk. We'll give you some tips on avoiding this phenomenon later in the article.

So, you've got a blister. Now what? Doctors recommend you try to keep the blister intact. This means no popping -- no matter how tempting it may be. Remember, the blister is there to protect your skin. It guards your injured skin from coming into contact with bacteria and becoming infected. Cover it with a small bandage. If the blister is too big for a standard-sized bandage, cover it with a porous, nonstick gauze that will allow the blister to breathe.

Sometimes, though, a blister may be quite painful and even prohibit you from wearing any shoes at all. If you do need to drain the blister -- and this should be your last resort -- here's how to do it safely. (Please note: If you have poor circulation or diabetes, consult a doctor before self-treating a blister.)

To relieve a painful blister, you should drain the fluid but leave the skin intact. This isn't for the squeamish, we might add.

  1. First, wash your hands and the blister with warm water and soap.
  2. Swab the blister and area with iodine or rubbing alcohol.
  3. Sterilize a clean and sharp needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol.
  4. Gently puncture the blister in a few spots near the blister edge. Let the fluid drain (applying very gentle pressure if necessary) and do not remove the overlying skin.
  5. Immediately apply an antibiotic ointment to the area and cover with a bandage or gauze.
  6. After several days, you can cut away the dead skin using sterilized scissors and tweezers.
  7. Apply more ointment and a bandage or gauze.
  8. Always call your doctor if you see signs of infection around a blister -- redness, pus, warm skin or increasing pain.

[source: Mayo Clinic]

You won't ever have to worry about puncturing a blister if you avoid getting one in the first place. Read on to find out how to avoid them -- and yes, you can still wear your heels.


How to Keep Blisters at Bay

High-heeled shoes are here to stay, no matter what. In fact, in a recent survey, 73 percent of women admitted to having foot issues related to their shoes. And -- get this -- 42 percent of women admitted they'd continue wearing a favorite shoe even if it gave them discomfort [source: WebMD]. So it's probably safe to say that, even when faced with the prospect of painful blisters, we're not going to start wearing sneakers with our cocktail dresses.

Luckily, you can avoid getting blisters in the first place through some preventative measures. Follow the advice on this page and you may find yourself walking on air.


First, let's talk about shoe shopping. Always buy the right size. You may think your shoe size is a 7 1/2, but shoe sizes aren't as standardized as we might think. A 7 1/2 in one label may be an 8 or 7 in another. Always try the size before and after your regular size to get a better feel for the fit. Shop for shoes in the afternoon -- your feet tend to swell during the course of the day. And remember, your feet can change size as you age. If you're pregnant or have gained or lost significant weight, your shoe size will probably change as well.

The better your shoes fit, the less your foot will rub or slide around -- which is what causes a blister in the first place. Never buy shoes that are uncomfortable from the get-go. We all say we can "break in" a pair of shoes, but that rarely works. Sometimes you can slightly stretch out shoes by wearing them around the house in socks. But we suggest you ensure the shoes are comfy right in the store. You shouldn't be able to walk out of them, and they shouldn't tightly constrict your foot, either. Much like Goldilocks' motto, they should be "just right."

If you don't need the heels to go sky-high, then don't. Experts recommend a 3-inch heel or lower. This height allows for better weight distribution and doesn't pitch your foot in a way that shoves it forward in the shoe. Also, look for shoes with straps, laces or ties. You can adjust the fit of the shoe throughout the day -- tighter in the morning, looser in the evening.

If you're already suffering from a blister, use a bandage or moleskin to protect it. Many brands carry bandages sized and shaped especially for high heeled and strappy shoes. Likewise, if you have a "problem area" that always seems to blister, nip it in the bud and place a moleskin or bandage on the area you're worried about.

Moisture is also big culprit in the formation of blisters. You can keep your feet dry by using powder or, in extreme cases, an anti-perspirant.

If, for whatever reason, you think blisters are unavoidable, try some of these measures. Take a page from runners and hikers. Use petroleum jelly or a similar lubricant wherever you think a blister is likely to form or has already formed. The lubrication will prevent further painful friction.

If your feet are sliding forward in your shoes, causing the shoe to rub against your heel as you walk, try some insoles or heel cushions. These keep your feet firmly in your shoes, eliminating rubbing and friction. Another thing to remember -- nobody's feet are the exact same size. One may be slightly bigger or wider than the other, leading to one normal foot and one blistered foot. Grippy insoles and heel cushions can help alleviate this problem for the ill-fitting foot.

For more about shoes and foot care, check out the links on the next page. We'll see you on the catwalk!


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Blisters: First Aid." Jan. 11, 2008. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Tips to Avoid Foot Pain from High Heels." WebMD. 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • "Foot and Heel Conditions." Canadian Federation of Podiatric Medicine. July 16, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • "The High Heel-a-Thon in NYC!" Running With Heels. July 11, 2008. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • "How to Prevent Chafing and Blisters." The Walking Site. 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Krieger, Liz. "Bye-Bye Blisters. Hello Happy Feet!" Simply Stated. May 28, 2008. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • "O's Ultimate Shoe-Buying Guide." Oprah Magazine. 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • "SheFinds Solution: How To Survive Your High Heels." 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Vonhof, John. "Blister Prevention." Fixing Your Feet. 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Wexler, Suzanne. "Heels: Women follow men in high-stepping fashion." The Vancouver Sun. Sept. 28, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)