Unless you live in the Florida Keys or on the beach in Malibu, Calif., chances are your feet have spent the last few months in stuffy winter boots or thick woolen socks. And, while the winter footwear kept your tootsies toasty as you slogged through the snow, you’re probably not too keen on showing off those pale, callused toes in a pair of slinky summer sandals or flip-flops.
“Whenever feet are confined in boots for the winter or any other time, air circulation decreases with subsequent increases in carbon dioxide, temperatures go up, and moisture retention on the skin surface occurs,” said Dr. Craig Kraffert, a dermatologist with Redding Dermatology Medical Group, Inc. in northern California.
In layman’s terms, that means you’ve got some work to do to vanquish the calluses, dry skin and, possibly, athlete’s foot fungus that may have taken up residence during the cold weather. But with some quick tips, a few tools and diligent care, you’ll be ready for summer.
When feet come out of boots and socks, they are more likely to have fungi colonizing on the skin and occasionally the nails, Kraffert said. “On the skin, these changes often show up as thickening and dry scaling on the sides of the heels and balls of the feet,” he said. “On the nails, the changes may include a thickening and/or yellowing.”
So what’s a girl or guy to do?
Keeping feet clean is crucial, said Dr. Neal Houslanger, a Patchogue, N.Y., podiatrist and president of the Suffolk County Podiatric Medical Association. And, while you’re in the shower and the skin on the feet is soft, he suggests smoothing away calluses with a pumice stone each day. “Once a week just won’t do!” he said.
You can massage a moisturizing cream into the feet, avoiding between the toes, twice a day to combat dryness and cracking. However, painful calluses and cracks should be seen by a podiatrist, he said.
Dry, cracked skin can also be a sign of a fungal infection, Kraffert said. Such infections can be treated by a dermatologist or treated with daily, after-shower applications of a safe, effective, over-the-counter anti-fungal cream, such as Lamisil. Dryness that is not caused by fungal infection may respond to four to eight weeks of twice-daily applications of: a urea-containing product, such as Ultramide 25 lotion; a lactic acid product, such as Amlactin cream or lotion; or a potent glycolic acid product, according to Kraffert.
Kraffert cautioned against applying any prescription or nonprescription topical steroids (cortisone-based creams) to foot rashes unless directed to do so by a dermatologist or medical skin expert. They can make the infection worse, he said.
Sun worshippers can boost their beautifying regime by heading for the medicine and kitchen cabinets, Houslanger said. While he doesn’t recommend it on a regular basis, the doctor said Vaseline can be applied to jump start the softening process, as long as it’s kept away from the spaces between the toes.
“Another hint would be to apply the cream at night and then cover with plastic wrap and socks before going to bed,” Houslanger said. “This can be done for three nights in a row.”
And the Crisco you use to grease cookie sheets does wonders on rough, callused heels, he said. Houslanger suggests avoiding over-the-counter corn and callus removers because they contain acid.
A trip to the health food store for some body oils to mix with a little table salt will result in a fine exfoliating rub, according to Laura Hittleman, director of beauty services at the Lenox, Mass., branch of the exclusive Canyon Ranch spa. She suggests massaging the oiled salt into the skin from the mid-calf down for an instant glow.
“It makes your feet so soft,” Hittleman said, who also recommends a pedicure every six weeks.
To protect against infection and pain, both Kraffert and Houslanger suggested taking care when clipping toenails. Nails should be cut straight across and, Houslanger said, you should leave the cuticles alone. If they seem particularly unsightly, you can use a cuticle softener, he said.
Though pedicurists at health salons might work a cuticle softener into toenails before snipping them, Hittleman also cautioned against trying this at home. “We tend to go too far when it’s our own feet,” she said. “Put the nippers down!”
During the summer, you can do your feet a favor by remembering to use sunscreen. Kraffert gave a thumbs up to artificial tanners that some might wish to use in the early days of summer.
“Be careful with feet in the real sun, however, for they burn easily and this may cause immediate discomfort,” Kraffert said.
No matter how good bare feet feel when the weather’s warm, Houslanger suggested investing in a good pair of running shoes and support-savvy dress shoes, such as those made by Rockport or Easy Spirit. You can give your feet a breather in the winter months, too, by opting for leather shoes instead of man-made materials that trap the perspiration that can lead to infection.
“Don’t go barefoot. Feet need support,” Houslanger said.