As the sun has set on summer, the season of flip flops, sandals, and walking barefoot on the beach has, unfortunately, come to an end. But just because your feet will now be covered by boots, booties and chic sneakers doesn't mean your feet may be left needing some serious TLC.
The truth is, however fun or carefree your summer was, the season can be especially hard on your feet. Consistent exposure to the sun, sand, and dirt, (oh my!) along with long barefoot strolls, hot temperatures, the bottom of swimming pools and spas, dehydration, and summertime workouts can cause rough calluses, dry skin, abrasions and more.
This can be especially problematic and even uncomfortable because the skin on the bottom of your feet is naturally different and thicker than any other area of your body.
Fear not, though, as there are a multitude of ways to bring your feet back to being their best selves. From soothing soaks to routine maintenance, here are podiatrists-recommended ways to make your feet soft again.
Just as every good pedicure starts with a good soak, so should your skin-softening efforts. Soaking your feet in warm water helps to prepare the skin for exfoliation while also opening the pores to let any lotion-based treatment settle in nice and deep.
Dr. Miguel Cunha, podiatrist, recommends using apple cider vinegar (four parts water, one part ACV) along with three tablespoons of Epsom salt to create an effective soak you can use for twenty minutes,
Afterward, he says, “apply castor oil, tea tree oil, or eucalyptus oil—which are natural anti-fungals—directly to the callus for five to 10 minutes and then exfoliate with a pumice stone.”
An effective exfoliating product or treatment will help to recess a build-up of excessive thick skin, also known as calluses. But you must be careful, whether you’re at home or at the spa. Dr. Stuera, podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Lab member warns, “aggressive exfoliation and removal of this skin, going into the deeper dermal layers can also cause thicker and harder skin to grow back.” Yikes.
To diminish tough, flaky skin, Cunha recommends the use of a foot file, like the Amope Pedi Perfect while in the shower.
Moisturize and Seal
You can apply all the lotions and potions you want, but if they don’t absorb, it’s likely they won’t be effective. When Dr. Cunha treats patients with cracked heels or thick calluses, he recommends using Urea 40% gel, (Urea is known as a keratolytic, AKA a topical that breaks down the outer layers of the skin ) such as the Bare 40 Moisturizing Urea Gel.
He recommends applying at night, and then sealing it up, telling patients to “wrap their feet with saran wrap, and wear socks to bed.” Why? The saran wrap will promote the penetration of the gel into the foot to help break down rough calluses and dry, cracked skin while promoting smoother and softer feet.
Aside from a Urea gel, Dr. Stuera says to opt for creams that are made for feet and have either lactic acid or salicylic acid. “These acids penetrate deeper and help exfoliate and moisturize. They are gentle enough to use a few times a week.”
Cunha adds, “I am also a fan of Eucerin cream as it is very effective in sealing in moisture to protect and heal very dry, cracked skin associated with eczema, psoriasis, or medications.”
Utilizing these recommended creams on a regular basis can reduce the need for a once-in-a-while deep scrubbing, too.
As you may know, while moisturizing your skin from the outside is important, so is moisturizing from the inside. To keep your feet (and body) healthy from the inside out, be sure to drink your water.
“I encourage my patients to hydrate by drinking plenty of water and eating water-rich foods such as cucumbers and watermelons,” says Cunha. As a general rule of thumb, aim to drink about half your body weight in ounces of water per day.
Dress with Care
While you’re trying to soften up your feet, it’s important to not do anything counterintuitive to your efforts. This, unfortunately, might mean forgoing the slinky sandals or barefoot walks around the house and opting for something with more coverage instead.
Be sure to wear socks with your closed-toe shoes and sneakers to provide a protective (and comfy!) barrier to avoid abrasions or chafing of the skin, and that every shoe you wear is a proper fit. Anything too tight, too big, or that overly exposes your feet can lead to skin injury, infection, and can make healing and softening your skin take even longer. To really undo summer damage, commit to selecting smart footwear.
Protect Your Feet
If you have any open cuts, broken skin or blisters on your feet it’s important to make sure they heal well and are kept infection-free. Use blister guards or bandaids as well as a topical antibacterial ointment to help speed up the healing process in a healthy way.
When trying to restore the texture of your feet, it’s important to not go overboard. In fact, it can be dangerous. There needs to be enough healthy, thick skin to help absorb shock, and protect us while we’re on our feet. In other words, the notion of "baby feet" can be dangerous because there is such a thing as too soft.
It’s also important to ensure there's nothing more going on as dry, cracked heels can be more than a cosmetic annoyance or discomfort—it can actually be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, too.
Conditions that can manifest in dry, cracked feet can include, “fungus, diabetes, psoriasis and thyroid conditions,” says Dr. Stuera, and Dr. Cunha adds, obesity, eczema, Sjögren's syndrome, athlete’s foot and juvenile plantar dermatosis to the list.
However, Dr. Cunha says, “Most people don't have the medical conditions or risk factors noted above,” though athlete's foot can be common. The infection typically produces "itchy, dry, scaling skin," he says. "In more severe cases, inflammation, cracks, and blisters may form.”
If you have any concerns beyond a “typical” dry or rough patch, and/or none of the above methods work to restore your feet to their pre-summer glory, be sure to speak with a healthcare professional to get to the bottom of it right away.