Besides long walks on the beach, cool dips in the pool and the occasional ice pop indulgence, the chance to show off your healthy feet is another bonus of summer. The warmer months are the time to swap winter boots and heavy socks for strappy sandals and let your feet get some air. But with that freedom comes a new set of concerns to keep in mind. Before you step out, make sure you’re covering the basics of keeping feet healthy all summer long:
Slather on the SPF
You know you should protect your face, arms and legs with sunscreen, but it can be easy to forget about your extremities. Your hands and feet are just as vulnerable to sun damage as the rest of your body, and a painful sunburn on your feet can make wearing shoes uncomfortable. When applying sunscreen, pay special attention to the tops of your feet, and be sure to re-apply as needed (every two hours, or more if your feet get wet or very sweaty).
Wash Your Feet Regularly
This may seem obvious, but keeping your feet clean in the summer is extremely important, particularly if you spend time outdoors barefoot or in thin-soled sandals. Research has shown that your feet may come in contact with as many as 18,000 different types of bacteria after just a few days of wearing these types of shoes. This includes germs found in fecal matter, saliva and on skin, including Staphylococcus aureus, which can enter your bloodstream through a cut and cause very serious consequences. To protect yourself, remove your sandals before you enter your home and promptly wash your feet with warm water and soap every day.
Don’t Wear Flip Flops All the Time
They’re easy, comfortable and fun, but besides making it easy for you to pick up germs, flip-flops can do a number on your posture and lead to orthopedic problems. A study at Auburn University found that when people walk in flip-flops, they take smaller strides than they do in athletic shoes, and tend to dig their toes into the sandals to help keep them from sliding around. As a result, flip-flop wearers may experience pain in the feet, hips and lower back. If you’d rather not cover your feet up in the summer, consider ditching your flip-flops (or reserving them just for the beach) and investing in a supportive pair of sandals for daily wear.
Let Your Shoes Air Out
You don’t need to be an Olympian (or even a gym-goer) to fall victim to the fungal infection tinea pedis, more commonly known as athlete’s foot. The condition, which is characterized by itchiness and flaky, peeling skin, is caused by a fungus that thrives in warm, damp environments like a sweaty sneaker or sock. While this can happen at any point in the year, rising temperatures certainly can worsen things. To protect yourself, let your footwear air out completely before you put it on, and wear fresh socks (preferably cotton) every day. To dry shoes quickly, try stuffing them with crumbled pieces of newspaper, which will absorb the moisture. (Just be sure to replace it every few hours, or whenever it begins to feel damp.)
Prevent and Treat Blisters
Blisters are one of the most common obstacles people face when trying to maintain healthy summer feet. The best prevention strategy is simple: Wear shoes that fit. But, even a brand new pair of comfortable sandals can turn into a blister-maker when you’re trying to break them in or are walking a long distance on a hot summer day. If you find that your feet are getting irritated, try using a lubricating blister block stick (available at drugstores) to decrease the friction. If it’s too late and you have a blister, resist the temptation to burst it. Doing so exposes tender new skin that is vulnerable to infection. Instead, wear a different pair of shoes and keep a clean bandage over the affected area until it heals on its own.
Keep Your Feet Exfoliated and Moisturized
A pedicure doesn’t just keep your feet looking pretty. It helps remove dry skin that can otherwise crack, harden or cause uncomfortable calluses. Exfoliate your feet daily with a metal foot file, pumice stone or a grainy foot scrub. Moisturize them at the end of the day with a thick lotion to keep them hydrated. For a treat, try a cream with peppermint oil; it will feel especially cooling after a long, hot day.
Drink Plenty of Water
Many people spend more time outdoors (and on their feet) in the summer, which can cause feet and ankles to swell—often because of dehydration. When you don’t get enough water, your blood becomes slightly thicker, which hampers circulation and can lead to uncomfortable swelling. Aim to carry water with you at all times, particularly if the weather is very hot, and drink often (even if you aren’t thirsty). If your feet are already swollen, lie down and elevate your feet higher than the rest of your body. You may also want to take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, to further reduce swelling.
Keep an Eye Out for Warts or Growths
Check your feet—or ask your pedicurist—for warts and growths. Warts are generally harmless and easily treated, but they should always be looked at by a dermatologist. Strange growths, such as bumps, skin patches or abnormal looking moles, need to be checked by a dermatologist as well to rule out skin cancer. These growths may show up between toes or underneath your toenails, so be sure to check thoroughly. And while this is a good practice to maintain healthy feet during the summer, it’s smart to occasionally check for unusual growths all year long.