For much of the year, you protect your feet by wearing closed-toe, supportive shoes. But when summer hits, sandals, flip-flops and bare feet become irresistible. Heed these tips to keep your feet and toenails healthy.
Regular Foot Care
Keeping your feet in top shape starts with healthy skin. When you wear sandals and flip-flops without socks, heels tend to lose grip and slide as you walk, causing friction on your feet. That movement increases susceptibility to calluses and dried skin, which may eventually crack and create fissures or sores, leading to pain and infection.
“To prevent this, it’s important to file down your calluses and moisturize when rough skin starts to build up,” says Jeffrey Gregori, DPM, a foot and ankle specialist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Care for your feet in three easy steps:
- Soak your feet in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes. If you’re short on time, just wet them during your bath or shower.
- While skin is still wet, gently file your heels with a pumice stone.
- Moisturize feet, heels and ankles with over-the-counter skin cream, like Cetaphil, Eucerin or Lubriderm.
Feet require regular care, but how often varies from person to person. “Everyone builds up calluses at different rates based on the shoes you wear and the skin you have,” Dr. Gregori says.
Strong, Healthy Nails
Warm weather exposure also affects your toenails. To keep them short and healthy, trim nails straight across and then file down any sharp edges. Cutting edges with a nail clipper could promote abnormal nail growth and create spikes that lead to ingrown nails and infection.
Because fungi love warmth and humidity, summer creates ideal conditions for fungal infection. If your toenails look thick and discolored, see your doctor for treatments, such as oral antifungal drugs, nail cream or medicated nail polish.
If you like to paint your toenails in the summer, only do so if they’re healthy and infection-free. Consider using an antifungal, clear base coat before applying the polish. And leave nails paint-free for at least one week every month; sunlight and dryness discourage fungal growth.
Support for Your Feet
Although they’re comfortable and fun, flip-flops, sandals and other summer shoes generally offer less foot support and increase your risk for Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis—conditions that cause chronic pain in the back of your legs and in your heels, respectively. That’s because weak arch support strains the Achilles tendon, which runs from your calf to your heel bone, and the plantar fascia, the tissue band that extends along the bottom of the foot.
The takeaway: Wear shoes that fit your activity. For instance, summer footwear works just fine for walking around poolside, but if you’re going for a long walk, put on more supportive athletic shoes.
“I give my patients a general rule,” says Dr. Gregori. “If you’re going to be walking at least 75 percent of the day, wear walking, running or tennis shoes. If you’re walking less than 25 percent of the day, a sandal or flip-flop is probably OK.”
Keep in mind, however, that if you wear low-support shoes multiple days in a row (even if you only wear them a few hours a day), you could still develop tendonitis or plantar fasciitis. One option: Choose open-toe shoes made by brands that build in more arch support, including Oofos, Vionic and Birkenstock.
Whatever you wear, pay attention to your comfort while you stand or walk. If you feel pain in your legs or heels, consult a podiatrist for treatments, such as stretching and strengthening exercises, orthotics and physical therapy.
“You can wear sandals—but in moderation,” Dr. Gregori says, “so your feet stay strong and healthy.”