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Sandal season is in full swing, but it's likely your feet have been shrouded in socks and tights and boots and sneakers for months. If you tend to ignore your extremities until the last minute, you may be surprised to spot that, beyond the lack of a pretty pedicure, all isn't quite as it should be. Or you may know full well that something is most definitely up, but you've chosen blithe ignorance instead of facing reality. But with your feet fully exposed in your newest pair of strappy sandals, it's time to face the harsh reality: your feet are out there for the world to see.
Some foot problems like dry heels and blisters are relatively easy to deal with, but then there are trickier issues like verrucas and bunions that require some expert intervention. We called on a few different foot experts to reveal the 11 most common foot problems and how to deal with them, so you can show off your pedicure with pride. Keep scrolling so you'll soon be able to put your best foot forward.
Common Foot Problem #1: Corns
"Corns are essentially hard skin embedded in the skin due to friction and localised pressure," explains Dina Gohil, founder and MD of DG Podiatrist Mayfair.
You will usually notice corns on the joints of the toes or even on the ball of the foot.
The Fix: "It’s tempting to use corn plasters, but these contain strong acid and could burn the toe, so they are best avoided," notes the HPCP-registered City Chiropody and Podiatry team. "Use a non-medicated pad to relieve the pressure and try to remove the cause of the issue, which is normally a tight shoe."
Gohil notes that "home filing can provide temporary relief, but corns do require to be removed by a podiatrist and nine times out of 10 the treatment is pain-free, with no downtime required."
Common Foot Problem #2: Callus
Callus is the technical term for hard skin. If the skin is dehydrated, you might notice your feet look dry and powdery, but not necessarily hardened.
The Fix: "Great home remedies include using a foot file on a dry foot gently over the week, rather than all in one go. Follow by using a good foot cream with the key ingredient being urea," says Gohil. "A good foot scrub can also be effective for smaller build-ups. For larger build-up, it is best to see a podiatrist to remove it painlessly and safely for a result that can last up to eight weeks."
The Margaret Dabbs team uses a combination of its Intensive Treatment Foot Oil under a good slathering of Intensive Hydrating Foot Lotion ($44) in-clinic. Do this every night to prevent dry skin and callus build-up.
"Never use blades or any sharp implement at home," warns the City Chiropody and Podiatry team. "Leave that to the professionals!"
Common Foot Problem #3: Dry, Cracked Heels
Okay, so this is pretty similar to callus. When your feet are exposed to the elements, you put them at risk of dehydrating. "Extreme heat and cold can dry your heels," notes Gohil. While dry, cracked heels don't look pretty, they can be painful too. "They can also lead to infections as the cracks become a portal of entry for microorganisms," notes the City Chiropody and Podiatry team.
The Fix: Gohil says that "moisturizing is essential to keep heels soft and supple. If the dry skin is too thick, then see a podiatrist to remove it." Use a urea-rich cream.
Common Foot Problem #4: Ingrown Toe Nail
"Ingrown toenails are usually caused by cutting the nails too short; this is particularly the case should you cut the corners of the big toenail," notes the City Chiropody and Podiatry Team. "If the nail bed is exposed, it can become infected, swollen and then press upon the sharp edge of the nail."
"Once the nail becomes embedded in the skin, the infection can become much worse, may need antibiotics and potentially a small procedure to separate the nail and skin," they add.
The Fix: "Catch an ingrown toenail early and you can prevent infection and extreme pain," says Gohil. "If you suspect you have an ingrown toenail, make a podiatry appointment, soak your foot in saltwater daily for 10 minutes until you see an expert and avoid tight-fitting footwear."
Avoid ingrown toenails by following the City Chiropody and Podiatry Team's advice: "Don't cut your nails too short, and avoid scraping and clearing out the nail edges with anything sharp. Always use scissors or clippers and don’t rip the nail!"
Common Foot Problem #5: Verruca
It's likely at some point in your life you've had a verruca or know someone who has.
"Verruca can show as a 'spot' or many 'spots' on the feet which don’t usually hurt when you walk on them unless they are in a weight-bearing position of the foot, but if you knock the area or apply sideways pressure, you will experience a stinging pain," explains Dabbs. "They are very vascular so can have contusions underneath which give the appearance of black spots and can bleed easily. Verruca is prevalent with younger people but can affect anyone of any age at any time."
The Fix: You should always get your suspected verruca diagnosed by an expert. Over-the-counter remedies exist, but in-clinic experts can use stronger topicals to tackle the problem. "At the clinic, I use a 60% strength salicylic acid," says Gohil.
Common Foot Problem #6: Fungal Nails
Not sure whether you have a fungal nail? Watch Gohil's YouTube video below.
The Fix: "Good hygiene is essential to avoid fungal nails: wear new fresh socks every day, dry thoroughly in between your toes, let your shoes air out and alternate footwear. Opt for good materials for shoes such as leather and suedes," advises Gohil. "Use anti-fungal topical treatments, try bamboo socks, which are anti-microbial, and also reduce your carbohydrate and sugar intake in your diet, as this can help!"
Common Foot Problem #7: Bunions
"A bunion is a bony bump that develops at the big toe joint," says the City Chiropody and Podiatry Team. "Bunions can get worse over time and become painful, sometimes even limiting the motion of your big toe joint. They can often become sore with tight-fitting shoes and walking or running."
The Fix: Gohil tells us that bunions are inherited, so there isn't much you can do to avoid them, but prevention can help. "It's so important to wear footwear that fits the width of your foot, with good midfoot and ankle support," she recommends. "You can also massage your bunion to help keep the joint flexible."
The City Chiropody and Podiatry Team note that "wearing cushioning pads to alleviate pressure can often be helpful in reducing your pain. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help alleviate stress on the bunion."
Ultimately, you may need to have the bunion operated on, so it's worth seeing an expert to speak through your options if your bunion pain becomes too much.
Common Foot Problem #8: Plantar Facilitis
"Heel pain can be one of many conditions, but most commonly is caused by plantar fasciitis, where pain is usually felt in the inside of the heel or in the arch area," notes the City Chiropody and Podiatry team. "One of the hallmark signs is pain in your first steps in the morning or after sitting for a long period."
The Fix: "Plantar fascilitis is an inflammatory condition, so the key focus should be to reduce inflammation," notes Gohil. "Keep your leg elevated as much as possible, wear trainers when walking or commuting, use anti-inflammatory gels and saltwater foot soaks."
Stretching your calves daily can help, notes the City Chiropody and Podiatry team but they warn that if the pain persists, book in to see your podiatrist and they can help diagnose and give you a treatment program.
Common Foot Problem #9: Athlete's Foot
Athlete's foot is characterised by an itchy, scaly rash. It is caused by a fungal infection, usually by coming in to contact with the organism Trichophyton rubrum that exists in warm, moist environments such as sweaty feet, gyms and swimming pool changing rooms, notes the City Chiropody and Podiatry Team.
Margaret Dabbs notes that symptoms include:
- Broken skin, which often has an underlying “redness” to the skin
- Scaly skin
- Itchiness and blistering
- Sweaty feet and odor
She notes that Athlete’s foot can affect one or both feet and can flare up from time to time, cause a burning, itchy pain to the skin, or it can be pain-free and just unsightly.
The Fix: "Athlete's foot can be treated with over-the-counter preparations containing antifungal agents. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which product is right for you," says the City Chiropody and Podiatry Team.
To prevent athlete's foot from developing, Dabbs recommends:
- Avoid wearing closed-in shoes without socks. Socks help to absorb the sweat from your feet, preventing your shoes from getting too moist.
- Try to alternate your footwear so that they have a chance to dry out.
- Avoid wearing nylon tights. Instead, try wearing breathable materials such as cotton or bamboo-rich stockings.
- Dry between your toes thoroughly with a soft towel after a shower or bath.
- Wash socks periodically at high temperature (over 60 degrees Celcius) to decontaminate them.
Dabbs recommends using the Margaret Dabbs Foot Powder ($28) in the morning before you put on your socks.
Common Foot Problem: #10 Sweaty Feet (and Odor)
If you suffer from sweaty feet, there are some things you can do to prevent it occurring and leading to broken skin, blisters or odor. "Sweat is produced naturally by all of us and usually evaporates off the skin," says the City Chiropody and Podiatry team. "However, within the socks and shoes, sweat may become trapped, especially in the spaces between the toes."
The Fix: Dabbs notes that foot hygiene is very important if you do suffer from sweaty feet. "Keep your feet clean and as dry as possible with clean dry socks and fresh shoes and try to avoid wearing closed shoes or trainers without socks," she says. "Use a hairdryer to dry the feet after you have washed them."
You can also follow the tips above for preventing Athlete's foot above, but the City Chiropody and Podiatry team also recommend applying rubbing alcohol to the feet. Soak some on a cotton wool ball and wipe it between every toe at least once a day. Aftershave or perfume works just as well; take care not to use this if the skin is broken."
Common Foot Problem #11: Blisters
Blisters happen to us all. "The demands of city life, office footwear and daily commutes can very often be the cause of blisters," notes the City Chiropody and Podiatry team. "Blisters form when friction is applied to an area of skin and reacts to the shearing force. Active people and athletes are especially at risk."
The Fix: Unless they are painful, the City Chiropody and Podiatry team say blisters are best left well alone.
"But healing times for blisters can be improved by professional podiatry care to offload and dress the area, giving you the quickest recovery."