Basic Grooming: How to Restore Your Feet

How to keep your hooves pristine in flip-flop season, according to a dermatologist, an endurance runner, a professional foot model and a dancer.

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We’re well into sandal season, and since you’re reading this article, we’re going to assume you’re somewhat foot-conscious, meaning your pale, imprisoned feet are most likely begging for sunlight at this point. The problem is, they’ve been confined to sweaty socks and solid shoes for the past nine months, accumulating nastiness and forming calluses along the way, hence you being afraid to show them off. So before you bare your toes for the world to see, consider this advice from several foot care experts (and for even more information, check out our podiatrist-approved foot care guide).

Robert Brodell, Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center: One thing is you want to wear comfortable shoes, and when you don’t wear comfortable shoes and you have rubbing over a point — let’s say the lateral side of the fifth toe — you get a corn. If you have pressure over a broad area, you get a callus, which is formed as your body is trying to protect itself from pressure. But when it thickens up to a certain point, it’s like having a pebble in your shoe, and it makes the pressure worse. Lightly filing those down a little bit every day is a very good way to get rid of some of that excess, hard, keratotic material that aggravates the pressure on those areas. You can also wear donut pads around the outside of the foot to spread the pressure over a broader area when you’re getting those kinds of lesions.

If you’re a diabetic, you have a problem where you don’t have normal sensation on your feet — you have neuropathy. One thing diabetics have to do is look at their feet every day, because if you had a pebble or tack in your shoe, you could damage your skin and not know it’s even there.

Another thing you can do: Look between the fourth and fifth toes. A lot of people out there have fungus, like a little bit of toe cheese between the fourth and fifth toes. They may not be having any symptoms at all, but if you have that in there, in my opinion, it’s worth treating with an over-the-counter antifungal product, like clotrimazole. You could go hunting or something, you don’t take off your shoes for 48 hours, you’re out in the woods walking around, and that fungus in a really warm and moist environment may take off and make a more aggravated, inflammatory condition on your feet. 

Also, you have little cracks between your fourth and fifth toes, and there’s always a little bacteria along with that interdigital fungus, and then you can get cellulitis, or an infection that goes into your foot or leg.

Kelly, professional foot model: My routine is very simple. For me, moisturizing is key. I like to use all-natural products, so I use Vitamin E or another body oil on my cuticles and a shea-butter-based moisturizer all over my feet nightly. I exfoliate twice a week with a salt or sugar scrub and essential oils that I make myself. Other than that, I get a classic pedicure at the salon every other week or as needed.

Kellin Haley, an endurance runner on her ninth marathon: Shoes are everything. If you’re running in worn-out shoes, this can have major long-term implications. I change out my shoes roughly halfway through any training schedule, which ends up being about every 250 to 300 miles. I also wear high-end running socks. It’s not a joke: If your feet are constantly wet when you run, blisters are a guarantee and your shoes will stink.

In terms of nail care, I frequently get pedicures, which has made a huge difference. I do this every two to three weeks, and it keeps the amount of blisters I get on longer runs way, way down — sometimes I don’t get them at all! I also cut my nails as short as possible, like scary short, otherwise I lose my toenails on long runs, and that’s excruciatingly painful. No impact on the front of my shoes keeps my nails intact.

Another thing: Build up your feet just like you build up your body. If you go and run 20 miles, and the most you’ve ever run is four miles, you’ll kill your feet — and probably your entire body, but especially your feet. Start slow and gradually add miles to your routine.

Lastly, I keep the dirt out of my nails after showering. Running does a number on your feet, so in between pedicures, I’m constantly cleaning out my toe cuticles and nails to keep them top-notch. It definitely helps!

Sydney Banta, avid dancer and cheerleader: I put a lot of stress on my feet, so I want them to look and feel special. After a long day of use, I usually put my Theragun on them for a little massage session — this usually gets the blood flowing again.

Obviously, giving them some suds is the way to go, and then making sure those puppies are lotioned up so they’re moisturized. I also enjoy a pedicure every now and again, but at the minimum, I always try to have fun nail colors.